Before departing for an official trip to France in commemoration of the end of the First World War, President Trump said Friday that he is sending lawyers to Florida to “expose the fraud” in Broward County as the tabulation of Tuesday’s mid-term election continues. He tweed on Friday, “As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes. Don’t worry, Florida – I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!” Trump said before departing that there could be a role for the federal government in the possible recount of the Senate and gubernatorial races in Florida.

In addition, the president questioned the shrinking margin between Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and insinuated voter fraud occurred in the Senate race. “Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day,” Trump tweeted, “now they ‘found; many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes. ‘The Broward Effect.’ How come they never find Republican votes?” In another tweet, he alluded to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who ran against Ron DeSantis (R) for the governor slot and lost. "Mayor Gillum conceded on Election Day and now Broward County has put him 'back into play.' Bill Nelson conceded Election - now he’s back in play!? This is an embarrassment to our Country and to Democracy!" the president continued.

Margins have continued to narrow in the Senate race between incumbent Sen. Nelson and Gov.  Scott, as well as between gubernatorial contenders the gubernatorial race between DeSantis and Gillum. Broward County is being scrutinized because it has been tardy in reporting ballot counts. Scott has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Broward County election supervisor Brenda Snipes over the handling of ballots, after accusing her of “mysteriously finding votes until the election turns out the way they want.” In addition, Scott’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have filed lawsuits accusing election officials in Broward and Palm Beach Counties of violating state law by failing to disclose information about the vote-counting efforts, including how many ballots have yet to be tabulated. 

A lawyer representing Sen. Nelson, Marc Elias, told the media that a hand recount is likely in the Senate race and that that it will start on Sunday.

For nearly two decades, Broward County has been the focus for accusations of fraud in both statewide and nationwide races, including the infamous 2000 presidential election and its “hanging chads.” Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes has been accused in recent years of illegally destroying ballots and office mismanagement. Florida election officials have until Saturday to tabulate votes and thus determine whether both the Senate and gubernatorial races will be recounted.

On Thursday, Snipes added fuel to the fire by failing to say how long the count by her office will take. That day, GOP chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted, “The #Broward Elections Supervisor has been pulling stunts like this for years and we’re not going to let her get away with it.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued a fusillade of tweets that said inter alia: “#Broward election supervisors ongoing violation of #Florida law requiring timely reporting isn’t just annoying incompetence,” and “It has opened the door for lawyers to come here & try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate & Florida Cabinet.”

Known as a stronghold for Democrats, Broward county is found between Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, which includes suburbs as well as city of Fort Lauderdale. According to Snipes’s office, Broward County has 593,000 registered Democrats and 252,000 registered Republicans.

In what in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Volusia, and Broward counties that Al Gore’s campaign demanded manual recounts of ballots after reports emerged, after a George W. Bush’s close victory, of partially punched paper ballots (“hanging chads”) that were alleged to have been improperly disqualified. For over a month in 2000, 45 lawsuits occupied state and federal courts to rule on the election results. Ultimately, it was the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore that halted a recount of ballots, including Broward’s, and preserved Bush’s presidential victory.

Charges of incompetence continued to dog Broward. In 2002, in an office noted for excessive spending and cronyism, Broward County Election Supervictor Miriam Oliphant was blamed when poor planning resulted in 25 Broward precincts opening late, lack of sufficient poll workers, and voting machines malfunctioned. Later, hundreds of uncounted ballots were later discovered. According to City Link, during municipal elections in 2003, “more mail-in ballots — 17,245 — were returned as undeliverable than were cast” because of Oliphant’s mismanagement. It was  then-Gov. Jeb Bush (R) removed Oliphant from office and appointed Snipes to the position. She has been elected multiple times since then. 

As the 2004 presidential election approached, Snipes blamed the U.S. Postal Service for losing 58,000 absentee ballots. She later announced that only 6,000 ballots had disappeared. USPS disavowed any wrongdoing. Later, Snipes’s office delivered 2,400 absentee ballots to a post office on a Saturday before the election after mail carriers had left for the day. This mean that potential absentee Broward voters — a critical constituency for Democratic candidate John F. Kerry — were out of luck.

In 2016, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) beat off primary challenge by fellow Democrat Tim Canova in Florida’s 23rd District. Canova filed suit against Broward elections officials, demanding to inspect the physical ballots in the race. However, Snipes’s office destroyed the physical originals but saved digital copies while Canova’s lawsuit was pending — a violation of a federal statute requiring congressional ballots be saved for 22 months after an election. Under Florida law, a public record subject in a court case is not to be destroyed without a judge’s order. Additionally, under state law, public records may not be destroyed “for a period of 30 days after the date on which a written request ... was served.” Snipe called it a "mistake," but the state announced that it would monitor Broward’s 2018 elections. On Thursday, Gov. Scott announced he was upping the ante by calling on the state police to investigate.

The Republican Party also sued Broward over how the county opened absentee ballots after observing officials at work in 2016. A judge ruled in August that Broward officials could no longer open the ballots in secret or before a three-member board decided on their validity.

“I’ve lost much faith and confidence in the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office to conduct a fair election,” Canova said in September to the media. “It’s undermined my confidence in the election system generally around this country.” He also lost a bid as an independent to unseat Wasserman Schultz on Tuesday. Earlier this year, Canova called on Gov. Scott to dismiss Snipes from office for malfeasance and misfeasance, to no avail. Canova said that he has contacted the FBI about the case, but has had no response. On YouTube, Canova complained: "There’s no equal justice or rule of law when Governor Rick Scott and U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg look the other way and sweep multiple felonies and misdemeanors under the rug. Brenda Snipes, the Broward Supervisor of Elections, admitted under oath to illegally destroying all the ballots cast in our 2016 primary against Debbie Wasserman Schultz. That was also the ruling of the Florida Circuit Court! Yet, Rick Scott keeps Snipes In office making $177,628 a year."

Broward County Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ruled that Snipes was in violation of Florida public records laws by not fulfilling a request for information tendered by Gov. Scott’s campaign. Judge Phillips ordered Snipes to turn over the number of all ballots cast in Tuesday’s election, broken down by absentee, early, and Election Day votes. Snipes was also ordered to provide the number of ballots still to be counted. “This court finds that there has been a violation of the Florida Constitution, the Florida statute public records act and pursuant to the applicable case law," said the judge. However, Snipes had not surrendered the information by the deadline of 7 p.m. ET on Friday.
 

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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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