A new elections office will boost security. It’ll fend off those who think it’s ‘patriotic’ to storm buildings

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A new government building will open in Broward County, Florida, with new security features, years after a tense demonstration outside the county’s elections office led officers to guard the front door from protesters. The new plans also come after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The new building for the Supervisor of Elections, which could open as early as 2024, will have private entrances and exits and gated parking for staff, among other security precautions. A second new county building will house the county property appraiser’s office and new 911 regional communications.

Of the new elections building, Joe Scott, Broward’s elections supervisor, said there is a “new paradigm” that “people don’t just feel entitled to storm a building, they believe they have a patriotic duty to storm a building and stop us from doing our jobs.”

He’s referring to 2018, when big-name Republicans, including the former president, were drawing national attention to Broward’s election. As the protesters outside the elections office in Lauderhill were getting more agitated, the fear of Broward’s election workers was palpable.

The Republican Senate candidate, Rick Scott, had declared victory over the Democrat, Bill Nelson, but the race was close enough that local officials were set to hold recounts in key locations such as Broward County.

The Broward protest drew members of the Proud Boys. And a blogger with ties to the group tweeted he was headed to Broward “to handle this situation” and was going to “stop the steal.” Prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, suggested on social media that the Democrats were trying to steal the election.

The protesters who had converged on the elections warehouse in Lauderhill were pressing against the building entrance at times. Over several days as ballots were tallied, they shouted about “corruption” and of attempts to “steal the vote.” Dozens of police officers showed up to “protect the ballots at all costs.” Former Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes was snuck out of the building after death threats. Elections staff took off their identification badges in the parking lot so they wouldn’t be harassed or attacked.

After the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, Supervisor Scott said security became the main focus of the new elections office design, even though the county had already been talking about creating new locations for both the elections and property appraiser’s offices to make them more convenient for county residents needing their services.

A “lot of the design for the new building” came after the Jan. 6 riot, he said. There’s now a “security mindset.”

The elections office and warehouse will be moved from the mall to a location in northern Fort Lauderdale, just south of the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. A 157,000-square-foot building at 2050 Spectrum Blvd. was purchased in July 2022 for $19.5 million.

It will be open to the public to return absentee ballots if they don’t trust sending their votes by mail. They also can register to vote or change their party affiliation there. And the canvassing board, the quasi-judicial panel overseeing the election count, will meet in the new digs.

The second county project in the works will take longer.

A 74,800-square-foot building housing the Broward County Property Appraiser’s office and accompanying Value Adjustment Board, as well as Regional 911 Emergency Services and Communications, could open as early as 2025.

The $11,449,350 building at 1801 NW 49 St. in Fort Lauderdale was purchased in 2019. It’s just a half-mile east of the building where the elections office and warehouse would open.

Residents can go to the Property Appraiser’s Office to file to receive a homestead exemption, or to the companion Value Adjustment Board to appeal their home’s assessed value if they think it has been set too high.

And the 911 communications center will replace the existing one in Coconut Creek, which was slammed in a consultant report last year because “bathrooms have no hot water, and harsh lighting, which reportedly causes eye strain and headaches.”

County spokesman Greg Meyer said the new location will have a suite for nursing mothers, and a “bigger and better” quiet room for 911 call-takers who need time out after handling an emotionally taxing call. The new facility will be a “better experience for them,” he said.

The county had purchased the Citrix building and property in early 2019 and the design process started in 2020. But when COVID-19 took hold, the county allowed the Department of Health to occupy the facility until mid-2021 for contact tracing efforts.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2024.

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(Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sunsentinel.com. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash)