Broward County elections supervisor says invalid ballots ‘were never counted’

She is trying to tamp down reports that she included invalid ballots in vote totals transmitted to the state over the weekend.
Brenda Snipes, elections supervisor in Broward County. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald)
Brenda Snipes, elections supervisor in Broward County. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald)
Published Nov. 14, 2018

The embattled elections chief of Broward County, who has been dogged by questions over the competence of her department, appeared to contradict her attorney Tuesday in trying to tamp down reports that she included invalid ballots in vote totals transmitted to the state over the weekend.

Brenda Snipes, the supervisor of elections in Florida's second-largest county, appeared on CNN just before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and told anchor Chris Cuomo that her office did not include a batch of 205 provisional ballots, which contained about 20 invalid ballots, in Broward's unofficial vote totals sent Saturday to Tallahassee.

"They were never counted," she said. "Those ballots had been separated, they've been isolated. They have not been counted to date."

As her department was working to meet a Saturday afternoon deadline to transmit its unofficial vote tally to the state, Snipes had decided to sort through the 205 ballots administratively, removing the ballots themselves from the identifying envelopes in which they were stored.

When Republican attorneys objected, Snipes agreed to hand over the ballots to the county canvassing board, the three-person body tasked with reviewing absentee and provisional ballots, and overseeing the recount process. The canvassing board rejected about 20 of those ballots for violations like discrepancies between a voter's signature on the envelope and the signature available on file with the state.

Because Snipes had already mixed the ballots, making them impossible to identify, the canvassing board was faced with the dilemma of accepting a few invalid ballots or rejecting the whole lot. Snipes recommended Saturday that the canvassing board accept all of the votes, arguing that it would be illogical to disenfranchise the majority of the voters for the sake of a few.

The canvassing board never publicly stated what its decision would be, but attorneys for Democratic and Republican candidates said it was their understanding the entire batch had been included.

Amid a haze of uncertainty, Eugene Pettis, the attorney representing Snipes in the elections lawsuits to which she is a party, told reporters following the Saturday deadline to transmit Broward's results that the canvassing board had in fact included the 205 provisional ballots in its count.

"The 205 previously opened provisional ballots, are they included in the numbers sent to the state or not?" asked a reporter.

"Yes. They are," Pettis responded. "They have been included in that process."

Dotie Joseph, another lawyer representing Snipes, chimed in, adding that the ballots "have been processed by the canvassing board."

Speaking on CNN on Tuesday night, Snipes restated her view that the ballots should be counted because the voters were properly registered and were only rejected on procedural grounds. But, she said, the decision was never her's alone.

"But that's not just my decision," she said. "Decisions like that are taken before the canvassing board and we sit as a team. There are three of us, two county judges and myself, supervisor of elections. So if a ballot is in question, before that ballot is opened it comes to the canvassing board, so that the canvassing board can review the circumstances and the canvassing board makes a determination as to whether those ballots should be counted."

Prominent Republicans, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, pointed to reports of Snipes' provisional-ballot snafu as additional evidence in their argument that Broward's elections chief could not be reliably trusted to oversee the counting of some 700,000 ballots in the county, second in the state to only Miami-Dade County.

Snipes' office has been accused by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, of potentially committing "rampant fraud" after he said Broward refused to give the Scott campaign vote tabulations following the election. As Broward and Palm Beach County, two heavily Democratic counties, continued to count absentee and provisional ballots in the days after the election, Scott and Republicans in two other statewide races saw their leads diminish and, in the case of the race for agriculture commission, even disappear.

Machine recounts are currently underway in the U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commission races. Those results are due to the state by Thursday at 3 p.m. If the margins between candidates in those races is under one-quarter of one percentage point after the machine recount is complete, Florida's Secretary of State will order a manual recount of the so-called "over-and-under-votes" in those races, or instances in which the tabulation machines identifies too many votes for one particular race or no selection at all.

Snipes, who admitted there have been "issues" in her shop during the midterm election, said she may not seek re-election in 2020. But on CNN Tuesday night, she denied at least one of the unflattering articles being written about her in recent days.

"There were 25 ballots in question, not 21, and those 25 ballots had not been counted as of today," Snipes said on CNN. "Those ballots as I understand it came from valid Broward voters, and I believe every voter should be given a fair opportunity to have their ballot cast, but we don't want that ballot to be cast illegally. If the ballot doesn't meet the standard, that's one thing, but if the ballots have been determined to come from actual registered voters who met all the criteria of being a registered voter and operated as a registered voter, those ballots should be counted."

This story was reported by Martin Vassolo.