In Broward County, Florida, a judge has ruled that Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes violated state and federal laws by destroying ballots from a congressional race in 2016 while they were the subject of a lawsuit against her office. The Florida Department of State will send election experts to the county elections office to "ensure that all laws are followed" in upcoming elections.

The court ruled in a matter regarding an unsuccessful attempt by Tim Canova to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) in the 2016 Democratic primary election. Canova, who was seeking for evidence of irregularities, sought to see the paper ballots in 2017. After losing the race by 6 percentage points, Canova then sued Snipes when the ballots were not released by her office. Snipes had approved destruction of the ballots after signing a certification that no court cases involving the ballots were then pending. Snipes' attorney plans to appeal the court’s decision.

Canova’s efforts may cost the elections office in excess of $200,000 to pay attorney’s fees for Canova. The court ruled that he may be reimbursed for lawyer fees. 

Snipes’ lawyer claimed that destroying the contested ballots was a “mistake” during testimony. Shipes said that the boxes containing the ballots were mislabeled and there was “nothing on my part that was intentional” about destroying them. “When I sign, I sign folders filled with information,” Snipes testified. She added later: “I trust my staff. They have the responsibility of giving me information that’s correct.”

Circuit Judge Raag Singhal ruled on Friday that Snipes wrongly destroyed public records: 

— While Snipes’ office is required to maintain the ballots in federal elections for 22 months, she destroyed the ballots after 12 months, which is the retention period for state elections.

— Because the ballots were the subject of a pending lawsuit, a court order was required to allow their destruction. 

Judge Singhal ruled that Snipes “has not presented any evidence refuting that the public records sought were destroyed while this case was pending before this court.” 

So far, the office of State attorney Michael Satz has not announced any intention of charging Snipes. Canova said he contacted the FBI before the court ruling because he believed that federal ballot retention requirements were violated. He said he has not received a response from the FBI. , but he said he has received no response from the agency.

Canova announced in April his departure from the Democratic Party. He will run in November as a non-affiliated candidate.

In 2017, President Trump ballot security commission questioned Snipes' practices, charging that the voter rolls in Broward County harbored felons and deceased voters. 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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