AP Joins 'Tallahassee Democrat' Alleging Violations of State Law When Meeting Between Sue Cobb and Ion Sancho Suddenly Closed, Police Ordered to Remove Reporters
Election Supervisor/E-Voting Hero Buoyed By Broad Support, But Controversy is 'Taking a Toll'
By Brad Friedman on 3/17/2006, 4:49pm PT  

The Associated Press is now joining the Tallahassee Democrat in a complaint sent to the Florida Attorney General objecting to an open meeting in the state's capital last Monday which Florida Sec. of State Sue Cobb suddenly took it upon herself to close. She then called the capital police and ordered them to remove reporters from the area.

Earlier this week, The BRAD BLOG reported on the aborted "open meeting" as called by Cobb with Leon County Election Supervisor Ion Sancho and two other county commissioners. The meeting was called in order to discuss the situation in Leon County, where Sancho recently revealed that Diebold optical-scan voting machines could be hacked without a trace left behind.

Sancho told The BRAD BLOG last night he felt "there was no reason" to close the meeting.

"There was nothing we talked about in there that needed to be kept secret. They just don't like open meetings. They like doing their business in secret," Sancho said.

Cobb, on behalf of the state, has been putting pressure on Sancho to purchase new voting equipment, threatening him with removal from his elected position, and suggesting that U.S. Marshall's might come in to run the county's election. That, despite the fact that all three companies certified to do business in the state have now refused to work with Sancho.

Voting Machine Companies, it seems, don't like doing business in the open either.

The meeting last Monday --- held on the first day of "Sunshine Week" celebrating "open government" in Florida --- was suddenly closed by Cobb who then called the police to remove reporters.

"On the first day of 'Sunshine Week' it was a pretty stupid thing to do," Sancho said.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, both they and the AP have now sent letters of complaint to Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist and State Attorney Willie Megs "expressing outrage" at being barred from the meeting in apparent violation of state law.

As reported by the Democrat...

''It goes without saying that the subject matter was of significant public importance and interest,'' Democrat Executive Editor Robert C. Gabordi wrote in a letter that was hand-delivered Wednesday. ''Florida law demands that this type of business be conducted in the sunshine.''
...
Crist, coincidentally, was honored with an award given by the state's First Amendment Foundation to a person who makes significant contributions furthering open government.

The two news organizations also protested Cobb's attempt to have police officers remove their reporters.

''As if the closure of the meeting was not enough, to then put our reporter in the position of being threatened with arrest is intolerable,'' Gabordi wrote.
...
Cobb said cameras would be a hindrance to a candid discussion and twice had reporters escorted into an adjacent hallway.

A previous BRAD BLOG report on the matter includes a video of Cobb talking to reporters just after the incident, explaining her reasoning for closing the meeting.

Sancho reported to us that, during the closed portion of the meeting, he learned Cobb had no real evidence to show that U.S. Marshalls had any interest in coming in to take over Leon County elections.

The beleagured 18-year Elections Supervisor has been widely supported around the nation for his efforts in exposing flaws in Diebold's voting machines. An email campaign in support of Sancho was reportedly so successful it is said to have shut down a number of Florida officials email servers. As well, in his own county, Sancho recently received a unanimous "vote of confidence" from County Commissioners during a raucous meeting held last Tuesday where supporters had turned out in throngs.

The supporters, Sancho says, were really fired up. "I believe they would have rushed the podium if the Republicans on the counsel didn't back off. I don't think they counted on that," he added.

"They were really stunned by the crowd and by the citizens who turned out in support, he said, "They seemed like they didn't really know what to do."

Sancho told The BRAD BLOG that the controversy --- which kicked off last December after he held a "hack test" which completely reversed the results of a mock election and has been "going non-stop ever since" --- has taken its toll.

"I've lost 20 pounds, aged about 40 years, and haven't been sleeping well at all," he told us.

Ever the optimist, Sancho added, "But I'm able to fit into clothes I haven't been able to wear in years! Good thing I keep everything!"

He hopes, however, to take a week or so off to catch up on rest while the state examines his his plan to use a new "vote-by-phone system" created by Kentucky firm IVS. The system, however, has yet to be certified by the state.

Now, Sancho is waiting on Cobb.