Trump Calls Out Embattled County Election Official in Florida Vote Count Mess


President Donald Trump is scrutinizing the Florida election-recount process, and he isn’t the only one—largely because of Broward County.

On election night, it appeared likely that Rick Scott, the outgoing Florida Republican governor, had defeated Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat. It appeared even more likely that Republican ex-Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, to be Florida’s next governor.

By Friday morning, both Nelson and Gillum were challenging the outcome.

Also still in question is the outcome of the race for the state agriculture commissioner, with the candidates separated by fewer than 500 votes as of Thursday night.

Automatic recounts are triggered under Florida law when the candidates are separated by less than 0.5 percent of the vote. The office of Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Republican, will review the returns on Saturday.

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Scott’s Senate campaign and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee sued both Broward and Palm Beach counties, seeking to make the counties’ vote-counting more transparent and ensure that each is following state election laws. Late Friday, a Florida court ruled in Scott’s favor in the Broward County case.

Nelson’s campaign sued the state Thursday to force a recount. Nelson’s lawyer, Marc Elias, a former attorney for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, called the Senate race a “jump ball.”

Do you think the election situation in Florida is a mess?

“We’re doing it to win,” he said.

Departing the White House on Friday morning en route to Paris, Trump said there “could be” a federal role for sorting out the electoral mess in Florida, when asked about it by a reporter.

He also referenced Brenda Snipes, the supervisor of elections for Broward County—though not by name. Snipes, a Democrat, was most recently re-elected in 2016.

“If you look at Broward County, they have had a horrible history,” Trump said. “If you look at the person, in this case a woman, involved, she has had a horrible history.

“All of the sudden, they are finding votes out of nowhere, and Rick Scott who won—it was close, but he won by a comfortable margin,” the president said of the Republican hopeful’s vote edge. “Every couple of hours, it goes down a little bit.”

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As The Daily Signal reported last year, Snipes admitted, in a lawsuit over the county having more registered voters than eligible voters, that noncitizens and felons might have voted.

In May of this year, a state judge ruled that Snipes violated state and federal law when she destroyed ballots from a Democratic congressional primary in August 2016, even though there was a pending lawsuit seeking access to the ballots.

Her office also posted results of an election 30 minutes before polls closed, which was a violation of the law.

Days before the election this year, the Miami Herald ran an article anticipating problems in Broward County, noting Snipes and her background.

“Bad things have gone on in Broward County, really bad things. She’s been to court. She’s had a lot of problems. She’s lost,” Trump said. “I say this: He [Scott] easily won. But every hour it seems to be going down. I think that people have to look at it very, very cautiously. … What’s happening in Florida is a disgrace.

“Go down and see what happened over the last period of time, 10 years. Take a look at Broward County. Take a look at the total dishonesty of what happened with respect to Broward County,” he said.

Scott was also critical of Snipes.

For her part, Snipes told a South Florida ABC affiliate that her office was counting five or six pages for each person who voted by mail.

“It’s a serious issue with me. … We ran 22 sites, we ran 14 days, we ran 12 hours. We had a big vote by mail, so don’t try to turn it around to make it seem like I’m making comedy out of this,” Snipes told a reporter.

The Associated Press reported Snipes said she wasn’t certain how many ballots remain to be counted.

J. Christian Adams, a former election lawyer with the Justice Department and now president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, argued against Snipes’ office in a two-week trial in 2017 in Florida.

“Brenda Snipes is one of the most incompetent election officials in the United States,” Adams told The Daily Signal. “She does a terrible job maintaining the voter rolls and enforcing the voter laws. She has been sued three times in the past two years. It’s astounding to me that she keeps her job.”

In 2014, her office was sued over a confusing ballot layout. In 2016, she was again sued regarding the destroyed ballots. Scott’s legal action marks the third lawsuit against her.

Interestingly, Snipes was first appointed to the post in 2002 after her predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, was removed for incompetence. She has since been elected and re-elected to several four-year terms to the county office.

Ballots were counted slowly every year except for 2008 and 2010 under her watch, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The last time the eyes of the political world were on Florida was after the presidential election of 2000. That’s when Florida recounts and a Supreme Court case decided the presidential contest between then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, and then-Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat.

Still, there’s scant legal comparison between then and now, Adams said.

“I don’t even think there’s any similarities,” Adams said. “In 2000, the question was about the intent of the voter. In these cases, we’re not even there yet.”

During his briefing with reporters Friday, Trump also referenced Nelson’s lawyer, again though not by name, and the connection Elias had with the infamous so-called “Steele dossier,” the unverified opposition research document that suggested ties between Trump and Russians.

Elias works for the Perkins Coie law firm, which retained Fusion GPS for opposition research on Trump. That resulted in the document written by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, that became the basis for the federal investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russians operatives to affect the outcome of the 2016 election.

“Then, you see the people, and they were involved in the fraud of the fake dossier, and I guess I hear they were somehow involved with the (Fusion GPS) people,” Trump said referencing Elias.

Elias, Nelson’s lawyer, bickered Thursday with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, on Twitter.

Elias also heralded the tightening Senate race.

Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor, said he is just interested in seeing all votes counted. He previously conceded the race, but subsequently rescinded his concession.

DeSantis, the Republican candidate for governor, who has declared victory, has generally continued acting like the victor, the Associated Press reported.

Fred Lucas is the White House correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of “The Right Side of History” podcast.

A version of this Op-Ed previously appeared on The Daily Signal website under the headline, “Trump Calls Out Embattled County Election Official in Florida Vote-Count Mess.”

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