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Judge rules that Broward Co. officials broke the law by destroying ballots in Wasserman Schultz race

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) attends the March for Our Lives Rally on March 24 in Washington, D.C. A Florida state circuit judge ruled Friday that a Broward County elections supervisor broke the law and illegally destroyed ballots cast in the 2016 Democratic primary for the seat held by Wasserman Schultz. (Shannon Finney/Getty Images)

A Florida state circuit judge ruled Friday that Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes broke the law and illegally destroyed ballots cast in the 2016 Democratic primary for the seat held by former Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

What's the background?

Wasserman Schultz, whose tenure as DNC chair was marred by accusations that she used the DNC to tip the scales in the presidential primary in favor of eventual nominee Hillary Clinton, faced a primary challenge in 2016 from law professor Tim Canova. Wasserman Schultz won the primary by a relatively comfortable margin of 56 percent to 43 percent, or a total of almost 7,000 votes.

However, as Politico reports, a documentary filmmaker posted a blog post in October 2016 that purported to demonstrate voting irregularities in the primary results. Canova made a public records request in March 2017 to review the ballots, according to the court's ruling, and subsequently filed suit in June 2017. Due to a technical deficiency in Canova's original complaint, the court dismissed it but allowed him to file an amended complaint, which he did on Oct. 19.

According to the court's ruling, Canova filed a motion for contempt against Snipes for failure to produce the paper ballots, as required by state law. During a Nov. 6 hearing on this motion, Snipes admitted that the paper ballots had been destroyed, in spite of the fact that Florida law requires the ballots to be kept for at least 22 months after an election and in spite of the fact that litigation concerning the ballots was pending before the court.

Canova then filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to rule that Snipes' destruction of the ballots was illegal as a matter of law. Snipes responded that since she contends that the destruction of the ballots was unintentional and since she made copies of the paper ballots, no violation of Florida law had occurred.

The court disagreed. In its ruling, the court stated: "The constitution grants every person the fundamental right to inspect or copy public records. ... Defendant's lack of intent to destroy evidence while this case was pending is irrelevant."

The court also rejected Snipes' argument that Canova's records requests were "unreasonable."

As a result of the court's ruling, the county will be responsible for Canova's legal fees, which are estimated to be in excess of $200,000, according to Politico.

What happens now?

Canova has called upon Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to dismiss Snipes for "malfeasance and misfeasance."

Scott's office has not yet committed to a course of action against Snipes. According to a statement provided to Politico, Scott plans to review the case and the judge's ruling before making a decision.

In the meantime, Canova is once again challenging Wasserman Schultz at the ballot box, but this time he is running as an independent.

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