Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes BROWARD COUNTY SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS / CHARLESVAZ.JALBUM.NET/SOE-2011-NEW-PICTURES/
by Daniel Rivero | WLRN | Miami- South Florida | September 18, 2018
A group of elections transparency and fairness activists gathered in Hollywood Monday to discuss voter suppression, felony disenfranchisement and election security. But speaker after speaker asked a single question: What has gone wrong with the elections process in Broward County?
Chris Sautter, an elections attorney, first came to Broward to work for Democrat Al Gore during the infamous 2000 election in which 537 South Florida voters decided the presidential election. He said back then that Broward County was one of the only places in the region that seemed to have it together when it came to voting.
“But since I’ve been here there’ve been a whole host of problems,” he told WLRN at the meeting.
Elections transparency activists held a meeting in Hollywood this week. Many focused their attention on the Broward County Supervisor of Elections.
The approximately 50 attendees were mostly local progressives as well as some who had traveled here. They heard tales of voter intimidation in rural Virginia. They oohed and ahhed at a demonstration given by software developer and political consultant Bennie Smith, who discovered elections system vulnerabilities in his hometown Memphis in 2015. Yet the conversation kept coming back to why the event was being held in Broward County.
“Broward County is kind of ground zero in the fight for accountability and verifiability and transparency,” said Sautter.
The most prominent case of something running afoul in recent years was during a contested 2016 primary for Florida’s 23rd Congressional District. Incumbent Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz was facing an insurgent primary challenge by Bernie Sanders-backed Tim Canova, which gained national attention. As the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz faced allegations that she tipped the scales of the Democratic presidential primary to benefit Hillary Clinton. (She denies this.)
Despite all his zeal, Canova lost the primary by a wide margin. But something felt off, he said. Shortly after the election he filed public records requests with the Broward County supervisor of elections to get access to the paper ballots, which are public records. For months he waited to gain access, but did not receive it. Then, he filed a lawsuit against Brenda Snipes, the supervisor of elections, an elected official.
Months into the lawsuit, Snipes ordered the destruction of the ballots Canova was requesting to see. He was unable to review the records and was stunned.
“I’ve lost much faith and confidence in the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office to conduct a fair election,” said Canova, who spoke Monday. “It’s undermined my confidence in the election system generally around this country.”
Legal experts maintained that Snipes broke federal and state laws. A Broward judge ruled that Snipes wrongly destroyed records pertaining to a pending lawsuit, which is illegal to do without a court order. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner wrote a letter to Snipes expressing “concern” and asking for an explanation. The state declared it would be monitoring upcoming elections handled by her office.
The election transparency meeting in Hollywood was hosted by non-profit group Americans United for Democracy, Integrity and Transparency in Elections,or AUDIT.
“I think this office is run very well, I do,” said Snipes in a phone call. She said that “many offices have legal actions taken against them” and that the results of any court cases “are what they are.” Previously her attorneys told the Sun Sentinel that they “think the judge is wrong,” and that the records were destroyed because of a mistake, but she declined to rehash the episode.
But problems with the Broward County elections predate Snipes’ tenure. In 2003, her predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, was removed from by then-Gov. Jeb Bush for “grave” neglect and mismanagement of the department, culminating in a botched 2002 election. Snipes took over the office following that fall-out and has been re-elected ever since.
Early last month, a judge in the Broward County Circuit Court filed an injunction against Snipes’ office, preventing her from opening mail-in ballots before meeting with the county’s three-member Canvassing Board, which determines the validity of the ballots. The Republican Party sued her office after a controversy in 2016, “when Republican poll watchers complained that Snipes’ staff was opening the ballots in private, thereby making it impossible for citizens or groups to question whether the ballots were properly cast,” Politico reported.
The issue of how mail-in ballots are handled by the office again came up during the Aug. 28 primary election after a late delivery of thousands of ballots by the Supervisor of Elections office left several county races in limbo for days on end.
Snipes said her office is fully prepared for the upcoming elections on November 6.
For the past several years in Florida, we have been dealing with toxic blue green algae — a red tide of cyanobacteria algae — that’s been killing our wildlife and strangling our internal waterways and coastal waters.
Today, it’s reached a terrible tipping point, with thousands of dead and dying sea animals, including manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, otters; all kinds of fish, a white shark, seahorses, shellfish, clams, oysters, crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans, and many species of birds, including pelicans. This is now the largest ongoing toxic waste site in the country.
How did we get to this point of ecological disaster? It started with the contamination of our politics by the corrupting influence of corporate money. In the past 25 years, Big Sugar firms have contributed more than $50 million to Republican and Democratic parties and candidates in Florida — including to my opponent Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of the ringleaders. And for years, Big Ag and Big Sugar firms have polluted the waterways without end.
Fertilizer runoffs from Big Sugar and big factory farms have poured massive amounts of phosphate, nitrates, and herbicides like glyphosate into Lake Okeechobee, which is prevented from flowing naturally into the Everglades where the plant life would act as a natural filtration. But that natural water flow has been impeded by the political clout of Big Sugar, which wants to hold onto its federal subsidies, now in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. In addition, phosphate mining by the Mosaic Company adds more pollutants into the water. Meanwhile, aging sewage infrastructure, cesspools and septic tanks are breaking down and leaking into the surrounding land and waterways, further adding to the filth and toxic stew of the algae blooms.
In 2014, a supermajority of Florida voters approved Amendment 1, a constitutional referendum passed to spend a billion dollars raised from a small real estate transactions tax to buy out the Big Sugar farms south of Lake Okeechobee and allow the lake to once again flow naturally into the Everglades. But the Big Sugar firms and their political puppets in Tallahassee have stopped the Florida legislature from fulfilling this mandate. Instead, the toxic algae builds up to a crisis level and then flows through the St. Lucie River to the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean to the east, and through the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf coast to the west. All along the way, sea life is dying and people are getting sick just from inhaling the air near the algae blooms. The tourist industry and marine sports are shut down, and the drinking water is in danger everywhere.
Two years ago, I received a letter from the big law firm representing these Big Sugar companies threatening to sue me for defamation. I dared them to do so by speaking out even louder against them. I did not back down because I knew it was only the beginning. And today this environmental disaster is worse than ever. This is now quickly becoming Florida’s own Flint, Michigan water crisis!
Enough with the corporate interests who keep putting their profits ahead of people’s lives and ahead of the wellbeing of future generations. It’s time to elect true fighters for our natural environments, people who will protect our water, wildlife, and public health and safety.
According to POLITICO, Wasserman Schultz’s possible role in the scandal was suggested when the lawyer for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections offered to supply the court with a sworn affidavit from Wasserman Schultz opposing the lawsuit we brought to inspect the ballots. Incredibly, the Supervisor’s offer was made more than two months after the Supervisor had already destroyed the ballots — during which time the Supervisor continued to conceal the ballot destruction from both us and the court.
In destroying the ballots, the Supervisor violated federal and state law, destroyed evidence in an ongoing lawsuit, and concealed all this wrongdoing for months. With the original ballots destroyed, a criminal investigation may be the only way to get to the truth about this election. We contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report these federal crimes, but the FBI has yet to return our calls, even after the Supervisor admitted to her illegal conduct in a videotaped deposition!
Should we believe Wasserman Schultz’s denials of any role in the decision to destroy the ballots? Sadly, there’s no reason to believe her. Let’s not forget that Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign in disgrace as head of the Democratic National Committee for violating the DNC’s own rules for fairness and impartiality in the presidential nomination process — violations that she continually lied about!
To remain silent about all the election frauds that happened in the 2016 primaries only serves to normalize election frauds on an ongoing basis. That’s why we’re demanding a federal criminal investigation of the illegal destruction of our ballots and the immediate suspension of the Broward Supervisor of Elections.
Thank you for all your help and for supporting our efforts for election integrity.
A group of Democratic senators is introducing a bill aimed at securing U.S. elections from hacking efforts, the latest response to attempted Russian interference in the 2016 presidential vote.
The bill introduced Tuesday is specifically designed to ensure the integrity of and bolster confidence in the federal vote count.
It would require state and local governments to take two steps to ensure that votes are counted correctly. Under the legislation, states would have to use voting systems that use voter-verified paper ballots that could be audited in the event a result is called into question.
State and local officials would also be required to implement what are known as “risk-limiting audits” — a method that verifies election outcomes by comparing a random sample of paper ballots with their corresponding digital versions — for all federal elections.
Both steps have been endorsed by cybersecurity professionals as a way to ensure confidence in the vote count. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has also recommended that states transition to voting systems that generate paper backups that can be audited.
“Congress must act immediately to protect our democracy from cyberattacks. Any failure to secure our elections amounts to disenfranchising American voters,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.
“For Americans to have confidence that their votes count, and that election results are free and fair, there absolutely have to be paper ballots and mandatory audits for each and every federal election,” Wyden said.
Currently, five states use paperless voting machines that do not produce a paper backup, and many more have mixed voting infrastructure with some localities using paperless systems. Twenty-two states do not legally require post-election audits.
Revelations of Russian meddling have triggered fears about the possibility of future interference efforts that could cast doubt on the outcome of U.S. elections.
The Department of Homeland Security revealed last year that Russian hackers targeted election-related digital systems, such as voter registration databases and websites, in 21 states as part of a broader plot to interfere in the 2016 vote. In a small number of cases, hackers succeeded in breaking into systems.
Officials maintain that none of the targeted systems were involved in actual vote counting, and that there is no evidence any votes were changed.
Some security experts say it would be difficult to wage a hacking campaign against voting machines, which are not connected to the internet and are typically stored in secure facilities. Experts say it’s unlikely that hackers could actually have a material impact on the vote. Others, however, are more skeptical of the security of voting systems.
“Why would we give foreign adversaries the opportunity to hack into our voting systems when we have better, more secure alternatives?” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said Tuesday. He added that the legislation represents a “critical step toward protecting one of our nation’s most precious assets: the integrity of our democracy.”
There have been other attempts in Congress to address election security at the state level. A bipartisan group of senators is currently trying to attach election security legislation to a must-pass defense policy bill moving through the upper chamber.
And Congress already sent $380 million to states to upgrade old voting equipment and shore up cybersecurity as part of a massive funding package approved in March.
We won! Our campaign just won a summary judgment in our lawsuit against Brenda Snipes, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections who illegally destroyed the paper ballots in our 2016 Democratic Primary against Debbie Wasserman Schultz.