Republicans accuse Broward County of dishonesty as Senate, governor vote counts drag on

Republicans accuse Broward County of dishonesty as Senate, governor vote counts drag on
Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda C. Snipes speaks to the media about a plan to mail replacement ballots to voters in Oct. 28, 2004, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Broward County has been beset with problems when it comes to elections. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A number of prominent Republicans, including President Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), have accused election officials in Broward County, Florida, of being dishonest in their handling of counting votes, especially in the two statewide races for Senate and governor.

Republican Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott has sued the Broward County supervisor of elections, demanding access to records that Scott argues should be publicly available anyway. The lawsuit does not call for an end to vote counting, although his Democratic opponent’s campaign has alleged that this is Scott’s ultimate goal.

What did Republicans say?

In a tweet, Trump said that law enforcement was “looking into another big corruption scandal” involving “Election Fraud” in Broward County.

Rubio argued that Broward’s incompetence could impact more than just the Senate and governor races.

Scott also raised questions about potential “rampant fraud” happening in the county.

What lawsuit?

The lawsuit filed by Scott against Broward County Election Supervisor Brenda Snipes on Thursday stated that “[t]wo days after voting has concluded, the Supervisor of Elections is unwilling to disclose records revealing how many electors voted, how many ballots have been canvassed, and how many ballots remain to be canvassed.”

The county is legally required to report “all tabulated vote-by-mail results to the Department of State within 30 minutes after the polls close” and “report, with the exception of provisional ballot results, updated precinct election results to the department at least every 45 minutes until all results are completely reported.” They have failed to do so.

The U.S. Senate race between Scott and incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, and Florida’s gubernatorial race between Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis could face potential recounts.

What’s going on in Broward County?

While Scott’s lawsuit addresses only the transparency issue, Broward County has been plagued by other issues during this election as well.

The Broward County ballot was poorly designed: Election records show that in Broward County 24,900 residents skipped the crucial race for Senate and voted only for the governor’s race. More remarkably, 8,700 more people in Broward voted for Florida Agricultural Commissioner than did for U.S. Senate. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that Broward was the only county with these discrepancies related to votes for the Senate. In fact, the rest of the Florida counties showed the opposite trend, with voters weighing in on the U.S. Senate race and then skipping the state-level races.

The Sun Sentinel reported that this happened because instead of putting it at the top of the ballot, the county put the U.S. Senate race all the way down on the bottom left, underneath the instructions, in violation of federal guidelines.

There are questions about why the county is taking so long to count ballots: Tens of thousands of ballots reportedly had yet to be counted on Thursday. By that point, every other county in the state had already reported its results. The elections Canvassing Board is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. ET on Friday to go over the remaining ballots, which Snipes said on Friday morning number about 240.

The county also found that 205 out of 600 ballots that had been classified as being submitted by ineligible voters were actually submitted by eligible voters, causing arguments between officials in both parties.

In a tweet on Thursday, Rubio questioned why Broward was so much slower than other Florida counties when it came to counting ballots.

The county has shown a lack of transparency regarding how long counting ballots would take: Broward County officials, including Snipes, have not given a definitive answer on when they might be finished tallying votes.

On Thursday, reporters surprised Snipes as she left a restroom and asked her for a status update on the ballot counting and demanded to know why other counties were able to count their ballots more promptly.

“But other counties didn’t have 600,000 votes out there,” Snipes responded, a claim that the reporters quickly debunked, pointing to neighboring Miami-Dade County. Snipes continued to evade the question.

“It’s a serious issue with me. I’ve been doing this now since Oct. 22. We ran 22 sites, we ran 14 days, we ran 12 hours, we had a big vote by mail, so don’t try to turn it around to make it seem like I’m making comedy out of this,” she said before walking away.

The county legally has until Saturday to tally all the votes.

What about the box of missing provisional ballots?

Sunshine Elementary School  was one of the polling locations in Broward County. A resource teacher at that school reported on Thursday that she found a box marked “provisional ballots” in a storage area. Broward County Elections Voter Equipment Center Director Dozel Spencer later told CNN that this box was full of equipment, and not ballots.

What about other poorly managed elections in Broward County?

The complaints from these Republicans could be easily dismissed because they all have a vested interest in the initial outcome of that election remaining intact. But a quick look back over the past two decades shows that Broward County has had a history of ineptness and possible corruption when it comes to elections.

2000: During the Bush vs. Gore election recount debacle, the Gore campaign specifically asked for recounts in Broward County (in addition to Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Volusia counties). Bush campaign lawyer William Scherer accused Broward County officials of inconsistently ruling on whether or not to count “dimpled” ballots throughout the process.

2002: Just two years after a their presidential level debacle, Broward County faced another poorly managed election. During the state’s primary in September, 25 precincts in the county opened late and multiple voting machines broke down.

2003: Because of rampant mismanagement by then-County Election Supervisor Miriam Oliphant, more mail-in ballots were returned than were cast.

2004: This election could have been a chance for Broward County to redeem itself. That opportunity was lost. It was also the first election for supervisor Snipes, who had been appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush at the end of the previous November.

2016: In 2016, Snipes came under fire for destroying paper ballots before they could be inspected by Tim Canova, a Democratic candidate running in Florida’s Democratic primary election against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. These records are supposed to be kept until 22 months after the election, but Snipes destroyed them only one month after. Snipes’s office had insisted that it did not break the law because it had made electronic copies of these records. However, seven separate election-law lawyers interviewed by Politico at the time disagreed and said that having electronic copies was not enough.

In May, a Florida state circuit judge ruled that Snipes had broken the law when she destroyed these ballots. The county was forced to pay legal fees for Snipes, which were estimated to be more than $200,000.

Canova had asked Gov. Scott to remove Snipes from her position for “malfeasance and misfeasance.” Scott did not do so.

During the same primary election, Broward County also broke state law and released early results 30 minutes before polls closed.