Sun Sentinel | December 7, 2018
Tim Canova, who overwhelmingly lost his latest attempt to unseat Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, wants a judge to throw out the results of the November election. He wants a do-over — with all the ballots counted by hand.
In a lawsuit filed in Leon County Circuit Court, calling Wasserman Schultz the “reported winner,” Canova asserts that misconduct by former Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes “require[s] that the election be set aside,” arguing that “her actions create more than reasonable doubt that the certified results do not express the will of the voters.”
Canova, who ran as a no party affiliation/independent candidate, received 13,697 votes — slightly less than 5 percent — in the Nov. 6 election. Democrat Wasserman Schultz received 161,611 votes, which works out to 58.5 percent.
The latest version of Canova’s complaint, filed Wednesday, focuses its critique on Snipes and the way the election was conducted in Broward. The district includes parts of two counties, and Canova received a higher percentage of the vote (5.1 percent) in the Broward part of the district than in the Miami-Dade part of the district (3.4 percent).
Canova faces an exceedingly high bar in seeking to set aside the results and get a new election.
“It’s really, really tough,” said Mark Herron, a Tallahassee lawyer who is an expert on election law. Herron commented generally, not on the merits of Canova’s case. The most recent high-profile case was a judge’s order overturning the 1997 Miami mayoral election after extensive absentee ballot fraud.
Among Canova’s allegations:
Snipes’ office didn’t report the results for each voting precinct by voting method — Election Day voting, early voting, mail voting — in a timely manner. Canova’s suit describes votes that weren’t immediately identified as “nearly 98,000 votes from nowhere.” Canova said they “may have been votes transferred illegally from another candidate or candidates.” The lawsuit offers no evidence to support that theory. The results are reported the same way in other counties — and the way state rules require.
State regulations tell elections supervisors to break down results by candidate and ballot type — except that when one of the categories is fewer than 10 votes “the supervisor shall report zero votes in all subtotals.” The rule ensures individual votes are kept secret.
The ballot scanners used at polling places “are inherently defective as to the chain of custody for the electronic votes.” Canova asserted that the modems in the machines “render them highly susceptible to outside hacking and inside software manipulation.”
Ballots on election night were, in at least some cases, accompanied by just one person, which allowed individuals “the improper opportunity to do anything they want with the ballots.”
Snipes posed for a picture with Wasserman Schultz on Oct. 27, showing “an arrogant disregard to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in the supervision of the 2018 election.”
A significant number of undervotes, where people voted in other races, “may mean that legitimate votes have either not been counted or have been discarded.”
Congressional races in Broward were placed in the lower left corner of the ballot, below the instructions, a placement that apparently caused massive under voting in the U.S. Senate race, contributing to incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson’s defeat. During the recount in the Senate race, there wasn’t evidence of votes not counted or discarded. The lawsuit asserts that the location of the race on the ballot “is unlikely to be the sole reason for the high undervote.”
Snipes’ overall handling of the 2018 election, including missed deadlines, a 2,040-ballot discrepancy during recounting and the confusing ballot design, generated massive criticism. In mid-November, Snipes said she would resign in January. On Nov. 30, Gov. Rick Scott suspended and replaced Snipes, citing “misfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty.”
Much of Canova’s complaint in the current case repeats his dispute with Snipes over the 2016 Democratic congressional primary, which Canova lost to Wasserman Schultz.
A Broward circuit court judge ruled in May that Snipes’ office broke federal and state law by destroying ballots too soon after the August 2016 primary. Snipes signed the ballot destruction order a year after the primary; the law requires preservation of the ballots for 22 months.
The ballots were destroyed even though a separate Canova lawsuit seeking access to the ballots was pending.
Canova, who lives in Hollywood, is a professor of law and public finance at Nova Southeastern University. Wasserman Schultz, a Weston resident, is serving her seventh term in Congress. Two other candidates were on the ballot in November: Republican Joe Kaufman, who won 36 percent of the vote, and no party affiliation candidate Don Endriss, who received 0.6 percent.
The state Elections Canvassing Commission, a defendant in the Canova suit, determines who is elected in presidential, state office and congressional contests. The state Division of Elections, part of the Secretary of State’s Office, operates as the staff for the commission. Sarah Revell, spokeswoman for the agency, said by email she couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Wasserman Schultz’s spokesman declined to comment.
READ First Amended Complaint To Contest Election- use lower left arrow to scroll down
1st Amended Complaint filed 12-05-18