Another critical election. Another electoral failure in Florida. Another vote counting disaster in Broward County.
Some Americans suspect fraud. Indeed, Broward County looks like a banana republic. The latest ballot debacle may be a result of carelessness or incompetence, rather than fraud. But election officials unable to do their job just invite abuse.
A botched vote undermines confidence in American democracy. There is no more vital act for a citizen than to elect his or her local, state and national leaders.
Voters expect only those who are legally eligible to cast ballots, which in turn will be counted accurately and quickly. This sets a genuine republic apart from fraudulent “people’s republics.”
In 2000, just a few hundred votes separated the two presidential candidates in Florida and chaos ensued. The American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court that helped guide its decision to force election officials to follow the law.
Yet, 18 years later, the state’s electoral process remains broken. The current Broward supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, was appointed in 2003 to fix an office beset with problems—the year before it failed to open the polls on time. Yet Snipes has done little better. A former elections inspector, Benjamin Bennett, complained that “[e]very election there is a snafu of some type every time.” Noted the Naples News: “it’s not unusual for Democrat Brenda Snipes, the head of Broward County’s election office, to find herself facing questions about bungled elections.”
In the 2004 presidential election, thousands of Broward absentee ballots disappeared. Her office transported them in private cars without observers and opened absentee ballots in private. Two years ago, the office was placed under state supervision after it violated both state and federal law by destroying ballots subject to a lawsuit.
Even The New York Times admitted: “her office has been criticized for a litany of problems. Elections employees were found to have unlawfully destroyed counted ballots in a congressional race in 2016. Absentee ballots were opened before cleared by the canvassing board. A constitutional amendment was left off some ballots. In 2016, Broward’s software vendor posted election results online early.”
There was a problem sending out absentee ballots this year. After the election, Snipes was unable to say how many ballots remained to be counted. Three days after the election her office had not even counted all “early” votes. Her office opened provisional ballots without approval by the canvassing board and mixed valid and invalid provisional ballots. In a suit filed by Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott, a Florida court found that the election supervisor violated the state constitution and law by failing to release information on the count.
Incredibly, there are more registered than eligible voters in Broward. Despite the requirements of both state and federal law, Snipes’ office failed to keep an accurate list, by not dropping the names of people who moved or died, and not preventing people who are ineligible, especially noncitizens, from registering. The ACRU’s 2016 lawsuit to hold the county accountable, ACRU v. Dr. Brenda Snipes, is now before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Snipes’ response: “Broward is nitpicked to the bone.”
Former Democratic county official Lori Parrish blamed “incompetence” since, she explained: “To do fraud, you have to be clever.” But given Broward’s record, who can blame people for fearing that “votes” are being created out of nothing?
It’s hard to know how many ballots are improperly cast when Democrats and their political allies resist every attempt to improve election security. Even a few votes cast mistakenly or fraudulently can change the results: in Florida, recounts have been ordered for both the Senate and gubernatorial contests as well as the commissioner of agriculture (in which the Democrat is slightly ahead).
Americans should be able to count on the integrity of their democratic process. The impact of Florida’s failure is not limited to the state. Unfortunately, the chaos in Broward affects all Americans. Other nations must wonder how the U.S. can push democracy abroad when it seems incapable of counting votes at home.
Election controversies hurt all Americans. Fixing the system should be a bipartisan priority.
Ken Blackwell is a member of the Policy Board of the American Civil Rights Union.