Broward County

State elections observers have seen no evidence of criminal activity in Broward County

State election monitors stationed in Broward County have seen no evidence of criminal activity in the administration of Tuesday’s election, a Florida Division of Elections staffer told the Miami Herald early Saturday.

The information, presented just hours before Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered statewide recounts in three political races, contradicts allegations of fraud in the Broward elections office made by Gov. Rick Scott’s attorneys Thursday and echoed by Republican protesters who descended on the headquarters of the Broward elections office Friday.

“Our staff has seen no evidence of criminal activity at this time,” Sarah Revell, spokesperson for the state Department of Elections, told the Herald Saturday morning.

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Two DOE staffers have been stationed in Broward County since at least Nov. 6 to oversee the administration of the elections, visit polling stations, and “ensure that all laws are followed.” Florida’s Secretary of State announced its plan for increased oversight in May, after a court ruled Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes broke the law when she authorized the premature destruction of ballots in a contested race following the 2016 elections.

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Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda C. Snipes, center, at her offices in Lauderhill, Florida as the canvassing board reviews ballots on Saturday, November 10, 2018. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Revell said DOE staff have remained in Broward County since election day and will continue to oversee the process until the certification of the results. She did not provide any specific information from the state elections monitors, other than to deny they had any information to back up Scott’s claims of criminal behavior, including allegations that Broward elections officials may be fabricating votes in an effort to overturn his narrowing lead in his race against Democrat Bill Nelson for a Senate seat. Revell said the monitors had filed no reports since the start of election day.

Scott’s campaign provided no evidence to back up its claims of fraud in Broward and Palm Beach counties and did not immediately respond to the Herald’s request for comment. Scott has not been briefed on any of the DOE monitors’ findings from Broward County, according to the governor’s spokesperson, McKinley Lewis.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Friday it had received no reports of illegal activity activity in Broward, nor had Scott formally requested an investigation into voter fraud. Scott publicly asked for an investigation during a Thursday evening press conference outside the governor’s mansion and claimed that “liberals” in Broward and Palm Beach counties were trying to steal the elections as late-developing returns shrunk the margins in races for U.S. Senate, governor and commissioner of agriculture.

He then went on FOX News and reiterated his claims.

“We don’t know how many more votes they’re going to come up with. But it sure appears they’re going to keep finding as many votes as it takes to try and win this election,” he said.

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Protesters demonstrate outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office on November 10, 2018 in Lauderhill, Florida. Joe Skipper Getty Images

The lack of official evidence hasn’t stopped Scott’s claims of fraud from catching on. Protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Broward elections supervisor’s office in Lauderhill Friday and Saturday, carrying signs accusing Snipes of trying to steal the elections and chanting “Lock Her Up.” Congressman Matt Gaetz tweeted out videos of police telling him to leave an area outside Snipes’ office where storage trucks had lined up Friday night.

“Bad things have gone on in Broward County,” President Donald Trump told the White House press corps. “Really bad things.” Trump also suggested Snipes may have tried to “steal” his presidential election in 2016, without providing any evidence.

While there’s been no evidence of criminal behavior in Broward County, there have been plenty of problems.

Democrats have voiced their own concerns about Broward’s elections over a growing number of complaints from out-of-state voters who never received their absentee ballots. Some have accused Snipes’ office of voter disenfranchisement for its apparent failure to get ballots to voters who wanted them. Tim Canova, the defeated independent congressional candidate whose lawsuit led Scott’s administration to send monitors in the first place, has repeatedly accused Snipes’ office of illegal behavior.

In two separate precincts, elections boxes were left behind, although Snipes’ staff says neither, including one reported Saturday to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, held ballots.

Mistrust from both right and left is underwritten by a history embarrassing blunders that have dogged the embattled supervisor of elections in recent years. And Snipes’ office was roundly criticized this week as she was unable to explain how many ballots remained left to be counted once it became clear that she was still tallying thousands of votes.

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Gov. Rick Scott’s lawyer Bill Scherer, center, talks to the media after Broward County canvassing board reviewed ballots at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Florida on Saturday, November 10, 2018. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

A circuit judge ruled Friday that Snipes violated Florida’s open-records laws after failing to fulfill a request for information by the Scott campaign. Snipes was ordered by a judge to release an initial a tally of votes counted — broken down by absentee, early and day-of voting — and provide information on how many ballots had yet to be counted. Snipes announced that as of Friday, Broward still had 2,100 more absentee ballots to process. Her office complied with the statewide deadline to transmit unofficial results by Saturday at noon.

On Friday, Snipes also said that more than a dozen rejected ballots were accidentally mixed with over 200 valid ones, creating an irreconcilable situation where either good votes will be thrown out, or bad votes counted. “The ballots cannot be identified,” Snipes confirmed.

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An attorney for Bill Nelson’s senate campaign Anthony Quackenbush as a Broward County canvassing board reviews ballots at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Florida on Saturday, November 10, 2018. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

On Saturday, she requested that the entire batch of ballots be counted, and they were included in the final tally sent to the state Division of Elections.

“It seems unfair to be to disenfranchise 205 voters at the expense of a small number,” Snipes said, adding that the number of invalid votes would be too small to sway any of the races hanging in the balance.

Elections monitors from Scott’s office remain in Broward, overseeing the process.

“Our top priority is a fair and accurate election,” said Revell in a statement. “We will continue to work with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the appropriate jurisdictions to report any suspected elections fraud or criminal activity.”

This article has been updated with new information since initial publication. Miami Herald reporters Alex Harris and Martin Vassolo contributed to this report.

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