Choose your metaphor: Nosing a plane down towards a mountain side, steering a ship into an iceberg, jumping the tracks and plunging off of a train trestle. Any one of these disasters is apt symbolism for the Broward County Board of Elections overseeing a recount. The primary reason is, the disaster's pilot, captain or engineer is Supervisor Of Elections Brenda Snipes.
For many across the country, the concept of Broward County being involved in another major election recount brought up horrific memories of the 2000 debacle. For those of us in South Florida, the thought that Snipes would be in charge was cause for concern due to far more recent memory. She has been a proven disaster, and one that should have been removed from her post long before the current fiasco -- a fiasco largely created by Snipes herself.
The early reports tried in vain either to protect Snipes from criticism, or deflect the problems onto others. Meanwhile, the stories of incompetence kept rolling in. As the announcement of a needed recount for the Senate race between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott came in, attention universally turned to Snipes’ office as both a potential tide-turner for the sitting senator, and a source of problems for an election that after Tuesday produced more questions than answers.
It took almost no time for the latter to arrive.
One early story involved an elementary school worker who found cases marked “provisional ballots,” left behind at the location used as a polling place. This was followed by Snipes' announcement that her office would not have ballots counted by the deadline mandated by law. In court over Scott's lawsuit against Snipes to turn over all election records, Snipes was asked but couldn't or wouldn't answer how many ballots were yet to count.
This was followed by the announcement that mail-in ballots were still being discovered, with one batch arriving days later from the Opa-Locka post office. Issues also cropped up with the scanning machines, and then came the news that surprised few -- Snipes was found to have mixed invalid provisional ballots in with legitimate votes.
Snipes has claimed in media reports that her district is facing unique challenges in the wake of the election. Obviously so. But in Broward elections, the buck stops with the supervisor. The level of incompetence, and at the very least appearance of malfeasance, is made all the more stark against the fact that no other districts have reported any problems approaching the level seen in Broward. This includes the numerous Panhandle offices facing specific challenges brought on by last month’s devastating hurricane.
Even before the vote, there were signs of trouble. News surfaced that that requests for early-voting ballots were either never fulfilled, or arrived too late for voters to make the deadline. During the primaries, there were problems getting results in a timely fashion, with the supposed cutting-edge system being the 67th county of 67 to post results. In August a court ruled in favor of the Republican Party of Florida, in a case brought by the RPOF, requiring Snipes not open mail-in ballots in private to validate them. It's quite a statement that it took a court case to mandate the supervisor of elections follow election law.
But this, too, is no surprise in regards to Snipes. She has shown repeated reticence in following the law. This past summer, as Nancy Smith detailed here, Snipes was found to have violated state and federal laws by destroying paper ballots prematurely. Yet, Gov. Scott allowed her to remain in office. Despite a rather lengthy record of prior impropriety that would normally disqualify a SOE, Snipes has been permitted to remain and cause more mayhem.
There was a string of problems emanating from the SOE office during the 2016 elections. In one major blunder it was recognized that a number of ballots had actually omitted an amendment -- the Amendment 2 provision concerning medical marijuana. Currently, there is a raging debate that the ballot design made it difficult for voters to find the Senate candidates, leading to starkly lower votes in that category. (It is a unique paradox in which right now, elitist voters in cities cite lower-educated rubes in red counties, leading to GOP victories -- while at the same time claiming Democrats have lost votes because the ballot was too difficult to read!)
A suit was brought, once it was learned that of eligible voters, Broward County had a 103 percent registration rate. Thousands of those were over the age of 100, defying census data. In the case concerning this very issue, Snipes made a fairly bold admission -- one some would say should be professionally fatal. She actually stated, in federal court, that her office had allowed ineligible felons, as well as non-citizens, to vote. Yet somehow, this was not grounds to begin her review for removal.
It is almost a dose of irony that Snipes cannot seem to get votes tabulated in a timely fashion this year; in the 2016 primary election, her office violated election laws by posting results 30 minutes before the polls closed. She also has built her name recognition by using office resources during elections. Her head of staff doubled as her campaign manager, and she boldly placed her name on election documents.
Ethically challenged and professionally questionable does not exude confidence when the state is currently facing no fewer than six election results requiring recounts. The supervisor with a track record of violating, or at the least ignoring, election laws is in charge, and few have faith all will transpire properly.
This is the woman, after all, in that RPOF lawsuit from August, who had the judge make a special summation. In referencing Snipes, who is a member of the county Canvassing Board, Judge Raag Singhal declared the defendant not only failed to rebut charges but, “has even admitted to misunderstanding the meaning of the word 'canvass.'”
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.