Voting problems, fraud, scandals plague polling places across America: Florida
FLORIDA – November 15, 2018
In Florida, officials are still recounting ballots for Senator, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner. Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that Democrats are trying to steal the election. And today President Trump told The Daily Caller that people vote illegally by changing their hat or shirt and then coming back into polling places to vote again.
The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice lists Florida as one of a handful of states that have put in place significant voting restrictions over the past decade. But there are clearly still problems. Equipment in Palm Beach County is old, for instance. Then there's the election supervisor in Broward County. She's come under fire for a number of mismanagement problems, including mixing more than a dozen ballots that should have been rejected in with valid ballots, NPR reported.
According to NPR, in Taylor County, Fla., two county machines are set up. Two women are on stools feeding them ballots. Bigger counties have high-speed counting machines. But those are expensive. Here in Taylor, the machines tabulate ballots one at a time.
According to Tampa Bay Times, the Florida Department of State has asked federal prosecutors to look into faulty forms sent to voters in at least four counties that may have caused them to miss the deadline for fixing problems with their mail-in ballots. Emails released by the Department show that the forms appear to have been sent by the state Democratic Party.
Voters in at least four counties — Broward, Citrus, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa — received "cure affidavits," or forms used to fix defects in the mail-in ballots, such as a missing or mismatched signature on the original ballot. But those forms listed the wrong due date: Thursday, Nov. 8 instead of Monday, Nov. 5.
"Altering a form in a manner that provides the incorrect date for a voter to cure a defect … imposes a burden on the voter significant enough to frustrate the voter's ability to vote," Bradley McVay, the department's general counsel, wrote on Nov. 9 to the U.S. Attorneys for the northern, middle and southern districts of Florida in his letter which was only released to news outlets this Tuesday.
It is legal for both political parties to send this form to voters to help them fix their ballots, but it is a criminal offense to alter a form, Tampa Bay Times underlined.
On Wednesday, Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher in Palm Beach County said her staff had worked through the night to recount early votes after ballot-counting machines overheated Tuesday and gave incorrect vote totals. The county brought in mechanics to repair the machines on Tuesday, and Bucher said the equipment had worked well overnight.
Palm Beach County has managed to recount about 175,000 early votes affected by a machine malfunction, but the county is still far behind schedule to finish recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, Governor, and Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Tampa Bay Times wrote.
"We're in prayer mode to finish on time," Bucher told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Palm Beach County has set aside $11 million to buy new equipment, but it hasn't yet purchased the machines because the state still needs to resolve a question about voting system compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Broward has been the scene of drama since the election, as USA Really has already reported. Last week the department in Broward County was working to meet a Saturday afternoon deadline to transmit its unofficial vote tally to the state. The supervisor of elections in Florida's second-largest county Brenda Snipes had decided to sort through the 205 provisional ballots, which contained about 20 invalid ballots, removing the ballots themselves from the identifying envelopes in which they were stored.
When Republican attorneys objected, Snipes agreed to hand over the ballots to the county canvassing board, the three-person body tasked with reviewing absentee and provisional ballots, and overseeing the recount process. The canvassing board rejected about 20 of those ballots for violations like discrepancies between a voter's signature on the envelope and the signature available on file with the state.
Because Snipes had already mixed the ballots, making them impossible to identify, the canvassing board was faced with the dilemma of accepting a few invalid ballots or rejecting the whole lot. The canvassing board never publicly stated what its decision would be, but attorneys for Democratic and Republican candidates said it was their understanding the entire batch had been included.
Snipes' office has been accused by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, of potentially committing "rampant fraud" after he said Broward refused to give the Scott campaign vote tabulations following the election. As Broward and Palm Beach County, two heavily Democratic counties, continued to count absentee and provisional ballots in the days after the election, Scott and Republicans in two other statewide races saw their leads diminish and, in the case of the race for Agriculture Commission, even disappear.
Prominent Republicans, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, pointed to reports of Snipes' provisional-ballot snafu as additional evidence in their argument that Broward's elections chief could not be reliably trusted to oversee the counting of some 700,000 ballots in the county, second in the state to only Miami-Dade County.
Machine recounts are currently underway in the U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commission races. Those results are due to the state by Thursday at 3 p.m. If the margins between candidates in those races is under one-quarter of one percentage point after the machine recount is complete, Florida's Secretary of State will order a manual recount of the so-called "over-and-under-votes" in those races, or instances in which the tabulation machines identifies too many votes for one particular race or no selection at all.
Snipes, who admitted there have been "issues" in her shop during the midterm election, said she may not seek re-election in 2020, Tampa Bay Times reported.
According to Tallahassee Democrat, the machine recount already resulted in two fewer votes for Republican Rick Scott and five fewer votes for Democrat Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race; minus five for Republican Ron DeSantis and minus six for Democrat Andrew Gillum in the Governor's race; and minus three for Republican Matt Caldwell and minus four for Democrat Nikki Fried in the Agriculture Commissioner race.
In Indian River County, a manual recount may become a reality, according to CBS12 news.
The Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Office is waiting to hear from Secretary of State Ken Detzner on whether a manual recount is required for several races on the 2018 General Election ballot, according to a press release. If Detzner orders a recount before 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Indian River County Supervisor of Elections will start conducting it, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
A manual recount is ordered if the, "second set of unofficial returns shows a candidate for any office was defeated by one-quarter of a percent or less of the votes cast for such office."
And as recount continues in Florida, lawsuits have already begun piling up.
The Daytona Beach News Journal has published a list of the suits that have been filed against Democratic election supervisors in Palm Beach and Broward counties and others as manual recounts are underway to determine the winners of Florida’s U.S. Senate, Gubernatorial and Agriculture Commissioner races along with a legislative race in Palm Beach County. Some of the lawsuits have been resolved, some are still pending and more are expected.
Democrat Jim Bonfiglio vs. Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher and Secretary of State Ken Detzner:
This is the only lawsuit filed thus far that asks a judge to extend Thursday’s afternoon deadline for completion of the machine recount that is now underway. Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is narrowly losing to Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott, has intervened in the suit filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee. Bonfiglio, a Democrat who is currently 37 votes behind Republican Mike Caruso in the Florida House District 89 race, claims the deadline will rob voters of the Boca Raton area district from having their votes count. Facing the challenge of conducting four recounts – the U.S. Senate, Gubernatorial and Agriculture Commissioner contests in addition to the House race – Bucher opted to conduct the recounts in the order the races appeared on the ballot.
Republican Rick Scott for Florida vs. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher:
Republican Scott, who saw his lead against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson shrink in the days after last Tuesday’s election, claims Bucher isn’t securing the elections center in Riviera Beach properly. He is asking a Palm Beach County circuit judge to order the Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to impound and secure “all voting machines, tallying devices and ballots when not in use” until a victor is declared and litigation connected to the election is over. A similar lawsuit filed against the Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes was resolved Monday when she agreed to add three more Broward deputies to watch the recount there. At the hearing, a judge asked both sides to tamp down the rhetoric. He said there was no evidence of wrongdoing and denied a request to impound voting machines when not in use, according to various media reports.
Republican Rick Scott for Senate vs. Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes:
Scott claims Snipes continued to canvass ballots after Saturday’s noon deadline to report unofficial results to the state. Further, in the suit filed in Broward circuit court, Scott claims Snipes has refused to say whether what he called “illegal ballots” were and will be added to the official vote-count. The only ballots that can be received after 7 p.m. on Election Day are those from overseas military personnel. They must be postmarked on Election Day and arrive within 10 days of the election.
Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate vs. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner:
Nelson is challenging a state law that requires elections supervisors to toss out mail-in and provisional ballots if the signatures on them don’t match those on file. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has intervened in the lawsuit to oppose the request. “This lawsuit proves that the Democrats, are indeed, trying to steal this election by asking a court to turn illegal votes into legal votes,” said GOP Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. “They can’t win, so now they are trying to move the goal posts after the election and circumvent Florida law to get the outcome they want. It is desperate and shameful.”
Larry Klayman vs. Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes:
The conservative activist lawyer and founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch on Tuesday filed a lawsuit, alleging fraud, misconduct and corruption, as well as denial of access to the inspection of ballots under the Florida Public Records Act. Klayman, who made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida in 2004, is asking to inspect the ballots. He said he plans to file a similar lawsuit against Bucher in Palm Beach County.
Campaign to Elect Matt Caldwell Commissioner of Agriculture vs. Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes:
Republican Caldwell, who saw his lead vanish in his race against Democrat Nikki Fried, claims it appears Snipes inappropriately counted mail-in ballots that were received after Election Day’s 7 p.m. deadline. He is asking a Broward circuit judge to order Snipes to reveal whether she counted ballots that came in past the deadline. A hearing hasn't been scheduled yet.
Republican Rick Scott vs. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher:
Scott claims Bucher wasn’t letting people watch her workers when they duplicated damaged ballots so they could be fed through tabulation machines. Further, he claimed ballots that were copied by elections workers when voters circled or checked their choices, instead of connecting the arrow, weren’t sent to the canvassing board for review. In a hearing Friday, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx said it was too late to order Bucher to let people watch the duplication process after Bucher’s attorney told her that all of the ballots had been copied. But, Marx ordered Bucher to collect the duplicated ballots that hadn’t been reviewed by the canvassing board and let the board review them. Bucher said the ballots were mixed with others and had difficulty finding them but was trying to comply. She is appealing the order to the 4th District Court of Appeal.
Florida Democratic Party vs. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher:
In a request from the Democrats, Marx on Friday ordered Bucher to release the names of people who cast provisional ballots. But, the deadline had already passed for people to cure any problems with their provisional ballots. Marx said she would consider extending the deadline if the party could come up with valid reason for her to do so.
NBC Universal Media vs. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board:
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Kathleen Kroll late Friday ruled that canvassing board meetings are public, paving the way for temporarily banned television cameras to again record the vote-counting.
Another federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Ken Detzner and 15 county elections supervisors was filed this Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, News4Jax reported. The lawsuit alleges that some supervisors are not preserving digital ballot images created by voting machines as required by law.
“As a result of defendants’ failure to comply with federal and state law requiring the preservation of all election materials for 22 months, digital ballot images used for tabulating votes and possible post-election adjudication are in the process of being destroyed and overwritten following the November 6, 2018 general election for federal offices in Florida,” said the lawsuit filed by eight voters in Pinellas, Seminole, Sarasota, Citrus, Volusia and Broward Counties.
In addition to Detzner, the defendants in the case are Maria Matthews, the director of the state Division of Elections, and supervisors in Pinellas, Seminole, Citrus, Brevard, Clay, Lake, St. Johns, Duval, Lee, Martin, Hillsborough, Orange, Pasco, St. Lucie and Monroe counties.
VoteVets Action Fund and the Democratic National Committee vs. State of Florida:
VoteVets Action Fund, a progressive veterans' advocacy group, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed a federal suit against the state in the Northern District of Florida on Monday, Tampa Bay Times wrote.
Plaintiffs ask that mail-in ballots that were postmarked before Election Day but not delivered before the polls closed at 7 p.m. be counted. Mail-in ballots cannot be counted if they arrive after 7 p.m. on Election Day, according to Florida law.
The lawsuit is claiming voters should not be faulted for the late delivery of absentee ballots. Nelson's attorney, Marc Elias, cited the example of a few hundred mail-in ballots that were postmarked before Nov. 6 but got stranded at an Opa-locka postal facility, possibly because of an FBI investigation into a Miami-Dade man who sent pipe bombs through the mail before the election.
Elias said Nelson's campaign hopes to get post-marked absentees to be counted within 10 days after the election, similarly to overseas military members' ballots.
League of Women Voters, Common Cause and Joanne Lynch Aye vs. Republican Rick Scott:
On Monday, the group Protect Democracy sued in federal court on behalf of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and Joanne Lynch Aye, a Broward voter. The group claims Scott is improperly using his position as Governor to influence the recount in the U.S. Senate race in which he is a candidate.
Scott, according to the federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Florida, is using the powers of his office "to benefit himself and his party and to intimidate the local officials and volunteers conducting the vote count."
The plaintiffs asked a judge to file a restraining order against Scott, to prohibit him from using his authority in any way to influence the 2018 Senate race.
Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle disqualified himself from the case early Saturday. Chief Judge Mark Walker took over. The lawsuit is pending before U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee.
Watch USA Really correspondent Marcelo Sanchez’s report from Florida: