Five Times Broward County Royally Screwed Up Elections

Florida Gov. Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
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Do we really learn from our mistakes, or do we just keep making the same ones over and over again, for years on end? In the case of Broward’s Elections Office, there’s plenty of the latter going on here in the 954.

As we gawk at Rick Scott’s recent love affair with lawsuits, hang our heads in disbelief at the ineptitude of Broward’s SOE, and drown in a cacophony of voices alleging voter fraud, we, the people of Broward County can remember we've been here before. We know we’re going down in history as “The County That Can’t Vote Right.”

Much like an ex that just won’t let you go, Broward’s tumultuous relationship with elections goes way back. This will come as no surprise, but historically, our election office has proven time and time again that they have no idea what they're doing. Here are the top five times Broward County royally screwed up elections.

1. The One That Made Us Famous. It's the election that made Florida's ineptitude world-famous. Al Gore competed against George Bush in a race to the Oval Office that came down to a mere 537 votes. Bush took the win — or so he thought. Reports of “hanging chads” or improperly filed, partially-filled out ballots, surfaced. In a move that's been replayed by Tallahassee mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum over the past week, Gore rescinded his earlier concession and a manual recount was called.

More than a month passed after the election, 45 lawsuits were filed, and manual recounts took place in four specific Florida counties: Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Volusia and Broward. We all know how that ended, but this was Broward’s first large-scale dalliance with election inaccuracies. And it certainly wasn’t its last.

2. The One Where Broward Blamed the Post Office. Brenda Snipes had been SOE for less than a year by the time the 2004 presidential election rolled around, and Florida was in a similar position of substantial projected election influence.

Numbers reported by Snipes began fluctuating. She alleged the U.S. Postal Service had lost 58,000 absentee ballots, which was shocking in and of itself. Oddly enough, the number shifted considerably when Snipes came out again and said 6,000 ballots had disappeared. The Post Office denied all fault, and the incident devolved into a he-said-she-said between two government bodies. At one point, Snipes’ team dropped 2,400 absentee ballots off at the post office before the election, after mail carriers were reportedly gone for the day.

3. The One Where Votes Were (Illegally) Destroyed. With the 2016 primaries underway, Broward found itself in the hot seat once again. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was up against Tim Canova in Florida’s 23rd District. Here’s where things got tricky: Canova sued Broward elections officials after the race and asked to inspect the physical ballots.

SOE Snipes’ team “mistakenly” then destroyed the physical originals of the ballots (but saved digital copies). It was a clear violation of a federal statute, which requires congressional ballots be preserved for 22 months after an election. Snipes maintained that she didn’t know she broke the law and that the ballots were mislabeled.

4. The One Where Primary Results Were Posted Early. In that very same election, Broward’s SOE Office committed a felony: it posted the election results on its website 30 minutes before the polls closed. Secretary of State Ken Detzner got involved, as did the Broward County State Attorney and sheriff. A private contractor, VR Systems, wound up coming forward to admit one of its employees accidentally posted the results, and no formal charges were pressed. But still.

5. The One Where Ballots Were Missing An Amendment. 2016 was not the SOE’s greatest year. Glossed over in the global uproar of Trump winning the presidency was the fact that some absentee ballots in Broward were missing an amendment. And not just any amendment, either, but Amendment 2, which offered voters the option to legalize medical marijuana. Brenda Snipes denied any wrongdoing at the time, but she was sued by marijuana law reform organization NORML. The judge ruled in Snipes’s favor over the marijuana group, citing the election office's efforts to remedy the issue.

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