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Is Broward Supervisor Being Scapegoated In Florida Turmoil?

A series of voting irregularities in Broward County, Fla., have caused some to target Broward Supervisor of Elections Dr. Brenda Snipes, an African-American woman who has headed the office since she was appointed to the post by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003.

At press time on Nov. 14, a growing number of news reports were targeting Snipes, saying she is to blame for the turmoil. Three Florida races may be headed to a recount, including the gubernatorial race between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Rep. Ron DeSantis. Gillum recently withdrew his concession because the margin of victory between him and former Rep. Ron DeSantis has now narrowed to 0.41 percentage point, which is enough to trigger a statewide machine voting recount.

Florida law requires the secretary of state to call for a machine recount when unofficial results show a margin of 0.5 percentage point or less. If the machine recount shows a margin of 0.25 percentage points or less, the ballots will be recounted manually. (Manual recounts are done by hand. Manual recounts also consider over votes and under votes rejected by the machine).

Gillum said on Nov. 11 at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, “They don’t get to shut down the process because they don’t like the outcome they don’t get to shut down the process because they’re not winning.”

A day earlier, he formally withdrew his concession before cameras in a news conference. Gillum said, “Let me say clearly: I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every single vote.

And I say this recognizing that my fate in this may or may not change.”

Gillum’s team has also organized at least 100 volunteers and lawyers, who will be spread out across the state to ensure a fair and accurate recount.

The election official who is receiving much of the blame for the voting irregularities is Snipes, 68, an elected Democrat, initially appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. She and her office have been criticized for many ballot-related problems in Broward County. Snipes did not respond to requests for an interview, and did not speak publicly.

According to The Atlanta Journal, Snipes retired as an educator in 2003, and five months later, Bush appointed her to replace Miriam Oliphant, who was removed from the post after accusations of mishandling the 2002 gubernatorial primary, CNN reported in 2003. Snipes was elected to the post in 2004, and re-elected in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

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The New York Times cited some problems that Snipes has encountered through the years including elections employees who were found to have unlawfully destroyed counted ballots in a congressional race in 2016. Mailed-in ballots were secretly opened. A constitutional amendment over legalizing medical marijuana was left off some ballots. In 2016, Broward’s software vendor posted election results online early.

However, others warned against blaming Snipes and her staff in an election where turnout was unusually high for a midterm election.

“Let’s not forget: She was appointed by a Republican to right the ship,” former State Senator Chris Smith, a Democrat, told The New York Times. “And she has righted the ship. Because of the closeness of the election, she’s getting a lot of scrutiny, but let’s not forget there’s hundreds of thousands of votes in Arizona being counted, too.”

At least two other races in Florida will be subject to a recount, including the Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the incumbent, Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Nelson trails Scott by 12,562 votes, or .15 percentage points. Since the margin of victory in that race has narrowed to 0.15 percentage point, it will undergo a manual recount.

On Nov. 12, a judge turned down Scott’s request to “impound and secure” all voting machines in Broward County’s election headquarters when they’re not being used to recount ballots, according to news reports. However the judge agreed with Scott’s lawyers that “there needs to be an additional layer of confidence” in the vote-recount system in Broward.

The judge asked the lawyers representing Scott’s campaign and attorneys for Snipes to return on Nov. 12 by 1 p.m. with a plan that would assign the three additional deputies to protecting the voting machines and ballots during the recount of races for U.S. Senate, Florida’s governor and state agriculture commissioner.

The judge also warned the lawyers for all the candidates engaged in recounts to tone down their political attacks because many are watching the voting irregularities that are occurring in Broward once again – an obvious reference to Florida’s fiercely contested presidential recount in 2000.

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