Election 2020

Why Hasn't Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes Been Fired Yet?

Brenda Snipes, Broward County Supervisor of Elections, looks at a ballot during a canvasing board meeting Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Lauderhill, Fla .(AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

If you been laboring under the assumption that Florida fixed their election system after the Bush-Gore debacle in the 2000 election, you’ve been sadly mistaken. It’s become clear in recent days that corruption abounds and all efforts to ensure the integrity of elections has been thrown out the window — at least in Broward County.

It appears that recounts will be ordered in three Florida races: governor, Senate, and agriculture commissioner. All are currently within the margin that triggers a recount. But that’s all up in the air right now because the notoriously incompetent Broward County Board of Elections keeps “finding” new votes to count. That would be fine if elections supervisor Brenda Snipes were following the laws requiring transparency in the process, but she’s not. The ballot canvassing process, which is by law subject to public scrutiny, is clothed in secrecy as Snipes refuses to obey laws requiring her to permit observers through every step of the process. Not only that, but Snipes is making no attempt to even give the appearance that the ballot tabulating process is above board. That’s why Governor Rick Scott, who is running to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, filed a pair of lawsuits alleging that Broward County is violating election laws. (Scott also filed a lawsuit against the Palm Beach County elections board alleging that replacement ballots were improperly created.)

“Late Tuesday night, our win was projected to be around 57,000 votes,” Scott explained to reporters. “By Wednesday morning, that lead dropped to 38,000. By Wednesday evening, it was around 30,000. This morning, it was around 21,000. Now, it is 15,000.”

According to Scott, “On election night, Broward County said there were 634,000 votes cast. At 1 a.m. today, there were 695,700 ballots cast on Election Day. At 2:30 p.m. today, the number was up to 707,223 ballots cast on Election Day. And we just learned that the number has increased to 712,840 ballots cast on Election Day. In Palm Beach County, there are 15,000 new votes found since election night.”

How is it that election officials keep “finding” new votes that, oh, by the way, help the Democratic candidates? That’s a question election officials are refusing to answer.

In every election there are several different kinds of ballots to be dealt with. There are early voting ballots, absentee ballots, overseas military ballots, provisional ballots, and, of course, the ballots cast on Election Day. In the hours after the polls closed, Broward County should have known exactly how many ballots they had in each category, with the exception of overseas military votes that may continue to trickle in.

An enterprising reporter from Local 10 News managed to catch Snipes, who has been the elections supervisor since 2003, as she exited the restroom. This exchange ensued:

“Could I please get a moment to go into the room and find out?” Snipes asked the group huddled around her. “OK, when I come back I’ll let you know.”

“But, Dr. Snipes, it is now Thursday,” Weinsier said. “We are still counting ballots in Broward County.”

“We’re counting five pages or six pages for each of the people who voted,” Snipes said.

“But other counties have been able to do it,” Weinsier said.

“But other counties didn’t have 600,000 votes out there,” Snipes shot back.

“Well, Miami-Dade did,” Weinsier said.

“Well, have you been inside my — never mind, let me go check. I’ll check,” Snipes said.

“But it’s a serious issue. It always seems like…” Weinsier said before Snipes interrupted him.

“It’s a serious issue with me,” she told him. “I’ve been doing this now since Oct. 22.”

“But if it’s a serious issue with you…” Weinsier said, only to be interrupted again.

“We ran 22 sites, we ran 14 days, we ran 12 hours, we had a big vote by mail (during early voting), so don’t try to turn it around to make it seem like I’m making comedy out of this,” Snipes replied.

She later told the reporter that 205 provisional ballots were being examined on Thursday. Scott’s lawsuit alleges that Snipes violated state public records laws by refusing to say how many ballots were cast, counted, and left to be counted after Scott made a written request for that information. This afternoon, a Florida judge ordered Snipes to turn over all records requested by Scott no later than 7 p.m. (Update: Snipes submitted a massive file of documents to the Scott campaign this evening in order to comply with the court order.)

This is not the first time that Snipes’ competence and judgment have been called into question. In 2016 she was caught destroying ballots during Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s primary race. A federal judge in May ruled that Snipes broke both state and federal elections laws.

At the time, Gov. Scott vowed that during the midterms, “the Department of State will send a Florida elections expert from the Division of Elections to Supervisor Snipes’ office to ensure that all laws are followed so the citizens of Broward County can have the efficient, properly run election they deserve.”

But Tim Canova, who ran against Wasserman Schultz in 2016 and again this year, thought more should have been done. “The governor has the power to dismiss Snipes from office for malfeasance and misfeasance,” Canova said at the time the ruling came down. “The judge also pointed to the supervisor’s bad faith for continuing to litigate for months after admitting she destroyed the ballots, which will certainly run up the cost to taxpayers.”

That Scott allowed Snipes to continue as supervisor may prove his undoing as she continues to “find” votes for Nelson. She should have been canned at the first sign of malfeasance, so why didn’t Scott get rid of her? Some say it’s because her firing would have inflamed racial tensions and resulted in mass protests in the contentious county. At any rate, she’s now in the position of essentially determining Scott’s political future.

In a Twitter thread this morning, Michael Morley, a professor of law at Florida State University, wrote that Florida’s voting laws “are designed to assure maximum transparency throughout the process. Supervisors of Election and other election officials are required to provide accurate, timely information to both the public and candidates, and allow candidates to observe all key steps.”

The lawsuits filed yesterday by Scott, he explained, “provide detailed allegations and evidence that the Supervisors of Elections for Broward and Palm Beach Counties are materially violating state law and/or the Florida Constitution by operating in secret rather than transparently.”

“In my experience, having done election day operations work in other jurisdictions, such a blanket, unexplained refusal is bizarre,” Morley tweeted. “At a minimum, one of the most important facts an election supervisor must keep track of, and knows, is the number of ballots her office has.” He added, “The number may fluctuate, especially as military/overseas ballots arrive (the deadline for them hasn’t passed), but such changes or fluctuations must be explained. Refusing to divulge the total number of ballots that have been cast creates unnecessary opportunities for problems.”

“Needless secrecy & lack of transparency undermines public faith in the integrity of the process. Such secrecy might even violate the broad injunction a federal court entered against Dr. Snipes just a few months ago,” he continued.

Scott’s lawsuit against Palm Beach County appears to be much more serious one, Morley said. According to Florida law, if a paper ballot is damaged and unable to be read by a machine, election officials are permitted to create a replacement ballot to run through the machine. The statute requires that any ballots created must be done “in the presence of witnesses.” Scott’s lawsuit presented sworn evidence that the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections prohibited representatives of his campaign from monitoring the replacement ballot creation process.

“Secrecy and apparent violations of state law are inexcusable when millions of people’s fundamental right to vote at stake. The entire process must be completely transparent,” Morley concluded.

Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard