Broward County's Midterm Electoral Chaos Draws Comparisons to the 2000 Presidential Election

Broward County's Midterm Electoral Chaos Draws Comparisons to the 2000 Presidential Election
Photo of Gillum by City of Tallahassee, DeSantis by Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Update: In light of Rick Scott's lawsuit and unfounded allegations of voter fraud, journalist Bob Norman reached out to New Times to amend his sentiments about the parallels between the 2018 Florida midterms and the 2000 presidential election. "Right off the bat he’s [Scott] made allegations of rampant fraud and allegations. It's completely irresponsible and does echo 2000." Citing the Brooks Brothers riot in Miami-Dade County, Norman says he sees similar efforts to stoke fears of fraud. "[The riot] was an attempt to muddy the waters, which is exactly what we're seeing here." Norman agrees with Scott that there should be an investigation, but he adds, "Lawyers are coming in, protesters coming in, it's going to get ugly — just like it was back in the day.”

Broward County has found itself in the midst of an election controversy with national implications once again. Six major races — for governor, US Senator, Commissioner of Agriculture, state senator, and two state house seats — are in recount territory as results from provisional ballots and mail-in ballots trickle in. And in dependably-sluggish Broward, early voting ballots are still being processed.

Governor Rick Scott, who has already claimed victory in his US Senate race against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, has filed a lawsuit against Broward and Palm Beach counties and made unsubstantiated claims of "rampant fraud" that are now being parroted on Twitter by President Donald Trump. The escalating electoral chaos is drawing parallels to the contested 2000 presidential election, during which Florida drew the ire of the entire country as recounts of butterfly ballots in Palm Beach and hanging chads in Broward dragged on for weeks all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Broward is the only county in the state that still hasn't completed counting early voting ballots; a fact that Senator Marco Rubio used yesterday to irresponsibly suggest that Democrats are aiming to "steal" the US Senate seat. The embattled Supervisor of Elections Office (SOE) has also not yet finished filing provisional or mail-in ballots, but Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes told the Sun Sentinel that less than 240 ballots still needed to be counted. The elections office plans to release unofficial provisional ballot results by 1 p.m. Friday.

Investigative journalist Bob Norman covered the 2000 Gore vs. Bush recount for New Times. He acknowledges echoes of that race can be linked to this week's events, but he suggests the differences outweigh the glaring similarities. Norman references the wider margin, for one. "It's not as close — I don't think it's as likely that the outcome will change as it was in 2000."

That Broward, which Norman references as "The County That Can't Vote Right," is the epicenter of the controversy is unarguably one commonality. "It's happened over and over again, it's [Broward] just become a laughingstock... We're talking about the right to vote, and when you don't trust that, it's a terrible thing."

However, there is one contested race where the possibility of an amended outcome is looking increasingly likely. The contest for Commisioner of Agriculture is not only definitively going to a recount, but it's headed for an upset as Democrat Nikki Fried has pulled ahead of Republican incumbent Matt Caldwell by nearly 3,000 votes.

Fried told New Times a win is on the horizon. “We were always confident on election night that once the votes were counted, we would be the winner of the Agriculture Commissioner race. Now that more votes have been counted, that has turned out to be the case. As the process continues, we fully expect our lead will only continue to grow.”

“We were always confident on election night that once the votes were counted we would be the winner of the Agriculture Commissioner race." - Nikki Fried

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According to the latest numbers, the tides are turning for other Democrats, too. Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is now down by 36,211 votes, with Senator Nelson thinning his margin to only 15,074 votes.

According to state law, elections must be machine-recounted if the difference in votes whittles down to a margin of 0.5 percent or less of the total vote. Any margin lower than 0.25 percent calls for a hand recount of ballots misread by machines. At a 0.44 percent difference in total votes, the gubernatorial race is now within the margin to trigger an automatic recount. Scott's jump on Nelson is even lower: He's narrowed the gap to just 0.18 percent.
Florida Election Watch
The saga in Broward parallels the chaos in 2000 in another way: Ballot results released Thursday reveal that nearly 25,000 Broward residents voted for a governor, but not a Senate candidate. The Sun Sentinel suggests that the likely culprits are tabulation errors or, as with the 2000 presidential election, flawed ballot design.

Bradette Jepson, President of the League of Women Voters in Broward County, says that the League worked all day Thursday monitoring progress from the Lauderhill canvassing board. She says the board had been reviewing provisional ballots and vote by mail-in ballots, while the rest of the mail-in ballots were entered into machines. "It seems like everything is working the way it should be... It's something that the parties have to watch carefully."

But Deerfield resident Rosa Valderrama made calls all day to try to cure provisional ballots, and she's singing a different tune. Her only comment was directed at Snipes and her team. "When are we going to get an SOE who actually serves us? The ineptitude of the Broward SOE is horrifying."

Handpicked by Jeb Bush to serve as supervisor in 2003, Snipes is a frequent target for criticism, particularly after the 2016 scandal voters learned primary ballots had been destroyed after they were sought in a lawsuit.

"When are we going to get an SOE who actually serves us? The ineptitude of the Broward SOE is horrifying."

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Recently-elected Broward Conservation District official Richard DeNapoli serves as State Committeeman of the Broward Republicans. DeNapoli says that there's a lot to be concerned about.

"The tricky part is that I believe that there is a thirty-minute timeframe from which ballots must be reported as far as the day of vote. And here we are, two days after. And Broward is still reporting." DeNapoli says it's changing the outcome of a couple of races. "That's really problematic; it's going to cause suspicions of fraud. There have been provisional ballots discovered. There's just been lots of headaches in Broward."

But Caroline Rowland at the Democratic Party HQ of Broward says that the Democratic Party has confidence in the supervisors of elections. "[We] hope that this is a smooth and fair process to ensure the integrity of our election system."
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Ayurella Horn-Muller is a South Florida native, Florida State University alumna, and freelance journalist. She covers arts, culture, and music for Miami New Times and news for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. You can also catch her work in Forbes, Elite Daily, Film Threat, Elephant Journal, and Face the Current.