Sun Sentinel Editorial Board | POSTED ON: 6/13/2018
Broward County needs a new supervisor of elections, but not the way Tim Canova wants it to happen.
Last month, Canova prevailed in his lawsuit alleging that Supervisor Brenda Snipes wrongly destroyed paper ballots from his unsuccessful challenge of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the 2016 Democratic primary. In a recent op-ed for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Canova called for Gov. Rick Scott to suspend Snipes and appoint a replacement.
Governors can remove constitutionally elected officers like Snipes only for misfeasance or malfeasance. Snipes faces no criminal charges, but her actions in the Canova case again question her competence.
Snipes’ recent problems include results being too early and too late, and several mistakes with ballots in 2016. Snipes ordered the Canova-Wasserman Schultz ballots destroyed 12 months after the election, even though federal and state laws require preservation for 22 months. Snipes did so even though a lawsuit over the ballots was pending. She called it a mistake.
We must note that Snipes got the job through a gubernatorial appointment. In 2003, then-Gov. Jeb Bush removed Miriam Oliphant because there was doubt that she could hold an election on her own.
There was some controversy because Bush is a Republican and Oliphant is a Democrat, but Bush’s decision was correct. And in heavily Democratic Broward County, Bush picked Snipes, a Democrat and former high school principal. Despite Snipes’ problems, she has not dropped to Oliphant’s level of incompetence.
In addition, Republican groups twice have made bogus claims against Snipes in what we believe were efforts to drive down Democratic turnout. One came from the National Republican Lawyers Association. Another, in the form of a federal lawsuit, came from the American Civil Rights Union, a conservative counterpoint to the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union.
Still, Florida’s second-largest county deserves better.
Even the best reading of Snipes in the Canova case is bad for her. It would seem simple enough to follow basic rules on how long to preserve ballots. Yet Snipes didn’t. She blamed her staff for mislabeling boxes and giving her bad information. But Snipes is the supervisor. And this is not the first time we’ve had reason to question her supervisory skills.
We sought comment from Snipes’ attorney, Burnadette Norris-Weeks. She cited the supervisor’s motion for summary judgment.
In that filing, Snipes claims that Canova placed “unreasonable conditions” on his request for the ballots. He wanted to bring his own equipment. He made demands that were outside the request. The office did not hear from Canova or his representatives for months before he filed the lawsuit.
In essence, Snipes claims the request by the Nova Southeastern University law professor was a publicity stunt. Canova lost to Wasserman Schultz by 14 points, well outside the margin for a recount. The ballot inspection would have been his version of a recount. Canova has suggested, directly and indirectly, that the primary was rigged against him.
Snipes might have prevailed, but she couldn’t get around the unlawful destruction of the ballots. As Broward County Circuit Court Judge Raag Singhal noted, Snipes presented no evidence “refuting that the public records sought were destroyed while this case was pending. . .”
So Snipes deserved to lose. Public trust, however, becomes collateral damage. Snipes even claimed that scans of the original ballots were an “alternative form of preservation.” That sounds too much like “alternative facts” and is not what a supervisor of elections should say.
Snipes hurt her case further by demanding that Singhal recuse himself. The supervisor claimed that Singhal ruled against her — a prominent Democrat — to improve his chances of an appointment to the federal bench.
Two years ago, we endorsed Snipes’ opponent in the Democratic primary. We said Snipes “is too disconnected from the office’s operations, too unaware of its failings and too slow to make improvements.” The supervisor’s office, we said, “needs new energy.”
Yet Snipes got 76 percent of the vote and easily won a fourth term. Absent a strong candidate with widespread backing from the Democratic Party, Snipes likely would win again in 2020.
But the Canova case shows again that Snipes has stayed too long.
Because of her failure to retain the ballots as required, Scott is sending state employees to monitor her work in this year’s elections. “The Secretary of State’s office will continue to ensure that every Supervisor of Elections understands and follows the law,” his statement said.
“When we lose faith and confidence in the integrity of our elections,” Canova wrote, “our entire democracy suffers.”
Brenda Snipes should announce that she will not seek another term.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.