Brenda Snipes is the Broward County supervisor of elections who was sued by Republicans accusing the county of being unable to provide accurate vote counts from Tuesday’s tight gubernatorial and Senate elections.
Brenda Snipes was sued along with Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher by Florida Governor Rick Scott’s US Senate campaign. Scott leads incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by less than 0.02 percent. Both Snipes, who was backed by former Republican Governor Jeb Bush, and Bucher are Democrats in counties that overwhelmingly favor Democrats. Nelson leads Scott by more than a 2-to-1 margin in Broward and by nearly 20 points in Palm Beach.
The lawsuit accuses Snipes and Bucher of failing to say how many ballots are still uncounted and where they came from.
“It has been over 48 hours since the polls closed and Broward and Palm Beach Counties are still finding and counting ballots – and the Supervisors – Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher – cannot seem to say how many ballots still exist or where these ballots came from, or where they have been,” Scott said at a news conference Thursday.
Broward County still has early and mail-in ballots to count while Palm Beach County still has mail-in ballots to count.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Brenda Snipes Was Backed by Republican Jeb Bush and Re-Elected 4 Times
Snipes was asked to serve as the Supervisor of Elections in Broward County nearly 15 years ago, shortly after the infamous 2000 Florida recount in the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, WTSP reported. Broward is the second largest county in Florida with 1.15 million voters, second only to Miami-Dade County, which has about 1.4 million voters. Snipes was appointed in November 2003, after he predecessor was forced out amid controversy. Under former County Supervisor Miriam Oliphant, WTSP reports, uncounted votes were found stuffed in a cabinet drawer and her department was more than $1 million over budget.
Snipes, who has lived in the county since 1964, was re-elected in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016.
Snipes has come under fire before. A judge ruled that her office improperly destroyed ballots too early in a 2016 Congressional race. Her office was also accused of facilitating voter fraud but a judge cleared Snipes and her office of any wrongdoing in the case.
Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio claimed that Snipes has a history of “blatant violations.”
“A U.S. Senate seat & a statewide cabinet officer are now potentially in the hands of an elections supervisor with a history of incompetence & of blatant violations of state & federal laws,” he wrote on Twitter.
“In 2016, Brenda Snipes’ office posted election results half an hour before polls closed – a violation of election law,” Scott said at his news conference. “That same year, her office was sued for leaving amendments off of ballots. In 2014, Brenda Snipes’ fellow Democrats accused her of individual and systemic breakdowns that made it difficult for voters to cast regular ballots. All Floridians should be concerned about that.”
Snipes rejected allegations of wrongdoing prior to the election in an interview with The Miami Herald.
“I think the problems are blown out of proportion,” Snipes said in October. “Broward is nitpicked to the bone. Other places have the same problems, different problems. It’s just that they are not spotlighted like we are.”
2. Tuesday’s Senate and Gubernatorial Elections Were Much Closer Than First Reported
The Florida Senate race was called for Scott on Tuesday while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum conceded the race to Republican Ron DeSantis. Then the vote margin began to close as votes continued to be counted in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
“Late Tuesday night, our win was projected to be around 57,000 votes,” Scott said at his news conference. “By Wednesday morning, that lead dropped to 38,000. By Wednesday evening, it was around 30,000. This morning, it was around 21,000. Now, it is 15,000.”
“On election night, Broward County said there were 634,000 votes cast,” he continued. “At 1 a.m. today, there were 695,700 ballots cast on election day. At 2:30 p.m. today, the number was up to 707,223 ballots cast on Election Day. And we just learned, that the number has increased to 712,840 ballots cast on Election Day. In Palm Beach County, there are 15,000 new votes found since election night.”
Scott and Rubio both accused Democrats of trying to “steal” the election. Nelson’s campaign rejected the allegation.
“The goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told CNN. “Rick Scott’s action appears to be politically motivated and born out of desperation.”
3. Both Florida Races Appear Headed for a Recount
The margins for both the Senate and governor races are now within the threshold to trigger an automatic recount. Florida law requires a machine recount for any race separated by 0.5 percent or fewer.
After conceding the race on Tuesday, Gillum now says he is waiting for all the votes to be counted.
“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count,” Gillum’s campaign said in a statement Thursday evening. “Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported. Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”
The race between Scott and Nelson is even closer, meaning it is likely headed for a hand recount. Under Florida law, a manual recount of ballots set aside from the machine recount will be ordered in any race with a margin of 0.25 percent or lower, Fox News reported, much like the 2000 presidential recount.
4. Big Discrepancy in Number of Governor & Senate Votes Could Decide Race
While a big issue is the remaining votes in the two counties, a likely bigger issue may be the discrepancy between the number of votes for gubernatorial and Senate candidates in Broward County.
CNN reports that there were nearly 26,000 fewer votes cast for a Senate candidate than gubernatorial candidates in the county, the biggest discrepancy in the two races among all of the state’s 67 counties by about 23,000.
Photos shared to Twitter show that the ballot placed the Senate race in the lower left corner, before a long list of instructions on how to vote. By comparison, in Miami-Dade County where the race was on the top right of the ballot, more people voted for Senate candidates than governor candidates. In total, 3 percent of people who voted for governor in the county failed to cast a vote in the Senate race.
5. Broward County Has Been at The Center of Controversy Before
Broward and Palm Beach Counties are perhaps most infamous for the manual hand recount ordered in the counties in the 2000 presidential race. Broward has also been at the center of several more recent election controversies.
In August, a judge ordered Brenda Snipes and her office to stop opening mail-in ballots in secret or before the Broward County canvassing board can determine if the ballots were valid, Politico reported.
In May, a judge ruled that Brenda Snipes’ office violated the law by destroying ballots on Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s 2016 Congressional race too early. The ruling came after Schultz’s Democratic primary challenger Tim Canova, who lost by a large margin, sued over the results. Snipes approved an order to destroy the ballots. She later said in court that it was a “mistake” and the boxes were mislabeled, adding that “nothing on my part that was intentional,” The Orlando Sentinel reports.