Fueled by Trump tweets and unfounded claims of voter fraud, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Broward County elections headquarters Friday in a rowdy scene that led staff to call police for protection.
A crowd of about 100 activists organized outside the Lauderhill strip mall that houses Brenda Snipes' elections operations off U.S. 441, railing about illegal votes and stolen elections. They were drawn to Snipes' office by the claims of politicians and pundits that thousands of fraudulent ballots are being dumped into the vote tallies from Tuesday's midterm elections in order to steal races from Gov. Rick Scott and former Congressman Ron DeSantis.
Margins in races for the U.S. Senate and governor shrank over the past two days as Snipes and other supervisors in Democratic-leaning counties tallied the tens of thousands of votes that remain uncounted in the wake of Tuesday's elections. Alarmed by unproven claims that elections supervisors are tainting the electoral process, a hastily organized protest was pulled together on social media. Janet Klomburg, a 56-year-old from Weston, was among the crowd demanding Snipes' removal from office.
"We want her in handcuffs for her criminal history. We want her whole staff in handcuffs," Klomburg said. "This race was stolen from us."
Wearing a Make America Great Again hat and Trump 2020 polo, Klomburg straightened a pile of fake ballot boxes that protesters had arranged nearby. Before noon, the crowd swelled to more than a hundred protesters chanting "Lock her up," "Brenda Snipes has got to go," and "Stop the steal."
The crowd — which prompted Snipes to call Lauderhill police to her office's front door to temporarily keep the public at bay — was fed by fraud claims that seemed to enter the mainstream Thursday when Scott's campaign claimed that incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson had hired attorneys to "steal" his election. Scott's lead dwindled to around 15,000 votes as Snipes office and Palm Beach County continued Wednesday and Thursday to count mail-in ballots and votes cast during early voting.
The margin is so tight now that it'll likely trigger an automatic recount by hand under state law. The margin in the governor's race between DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum also shrank over the last two days to the point that DeSantis went from winning outright to likely needing a machine recount to affirm his victory. Matt Caldwell, the Republican nominee for commissioner of agriculture, went from barely winning to barely losing to Democrat Nikki Fried. That race is headed toward a hand recount.
As the margins slimmed, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio began tweeting about possible corruption at Broward's beleaguered elections office, which has a history of missteps and has been the subject of constant controversy in recent years involving prematurely destroyed ballots and published vote tallies. Late Thursday, Scott announced that he has sued Snipes and Broward's elections office and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate as "unethical liberals try to steal this election from the people of Florida." (The FDLE says it did not receive an official request from Scott and is not investigating.)
On Friday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was sending attorneys to South Florida — even though nationally prominent election attorneys representing both parties are already in Florida monitoring the process. He also claimed to know that Snipes had planned to steal his 2016 victory in Florida from him.
"In the 2016 Election I was winning by so much in Florida that Broward County, which was very late with vote tabulation and probably getting ready to do a 'number,' couldn't do it because not enough people live in Broward for them to falsify a victory!" Trump tweeted Friday.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle congressman serving on the (perhaps prematurely constituted) DeSantis transition team, made an appearance in Lauderhill to call for the Florida secretary of state to enact a state of receivership over Broward County. He accused the office of making up votes to help Democrats win and repeatedly called Snipes corrupt and incompetent.
"We cannot continue to allow this to be the Banana Republic of Broward," he said.
The door to the office, where a canvassing-board meeting to review the last 250 provisional ballots was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., was guarded by a line of Lauderhill police. Initially, only attorneys were allowed in and reporters and protesters were kept outside. Journalists have since been granted access to the county's canvassing board, which pores over unresolved ballots and sends official vote tallies to the state.
— This story was written by Alex Harris and David Smiley