Broward County

Whoops! Brenda Snipes’ office mixed bad provisional ballots with good ones

“All ballots have been processed” says Broward County Elections office

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office holds a press conference announcing all ballots cast have been processed and the unofficial results have been transmitted to Tallahassee on Saturday, November 10, 2018.
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The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office holds a press conference announcing all ballots cast have been processed and the unofficial results have been transmitted to Tallahassee on Saturday, November 10, 2018.

Broward’s elections supervisor accidentally mixed more than a dozen rejected ballots with nearly 200 valid ones, a circumstance that is unlikely to help Brenda Snipes push back against Republican allegations of incompetence.

The mistake — for which no one had a solution Friday night — was discovered after Snipes agreed to present 205 provisional ballots to the Broward County canvassing board for inspection. She had initially intended to handle the ballots administratively, but agreed to present them to the canvassing board after Republican attorneys objected.

“We have found no clear authority controlling the situation faced by the board,” said Broward County Attorney Andrew Meyers.

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On Election Day, Broward County collected more than 600 provisional ballots. The vast majority were declared invalid by the county’s canvassing board judges for reasons ranging from registering to vote too late to previously voting to voting at the wrong precinct.

But a couple hundred provisional ballots were held in limbo. Those ballots were the result of a connectivity issue in the system that precincts use to look up voter registrations, said Pat Nesbit, the elections day operations manager for Broward County. Voters would swipe their ID and the precinct system would show they weren’t registered voters. But when staffers called the Broward elections headquarters, the voter’s registration would appear. Precinct workers had those 205 voters fill out provisional ballots.

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On Election Day, Broward election staffers set those 205 votes aside, removed the anonymous ballots from their signed envelopes and counted them up in a voting machine that didn’t add those numbers to the final vote count. The elections department didn’t originally intend to have the canvassing board review those votes, but after uproar from lawyers for the Republican Party, the office handed them over to the board, which usually reviews ballots still in the envelopes.

On Friday, the three-person canvassing board — on which Snipes usually sits — found about 20 of those 205 votes had mismatched signatures and declared them illegal. That means there are at least 20 illegal votes mixed into an anonymous pile of 205, all sitting in a machine that counted them but did not add them to the final count.

“The ballots cannot be identified,” Snipes confirmed when a lawyer for the Republican Party asked.

Republican Party lawyers immediately pressed Snipes about the future of those 205 votes and if they’d be counted. Snipes declined to answer and continued judging signatures on remaining ballots. There is no statute guiding what happens next.

“This process doesn’t exist. The process is that the ballots aren’t opened. I would suggest to the board that this process would stop,” said Leonard Collins, a lawyer for the Florida Republican Party.

Broward must present its unofficial vote total from the midterm elections to the state by noon Saturday. Recounts are expected in races for U.S. Senate, governor and commissioner of agriculture, and Snipes has become a target for Republican politicians alleging corruption and incompetence after her office was still counting thousands of early and absentee ballots in the days following Tuesday’s election.

The board concluded its Friday session about 10:30 p.m., but the supervisor of elections has not yet announced a decision on how to handle the ballots.

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