Elec­tions chief Brenda Snipes’ his­tory of trou­ble

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Sweeney

When Brenda Snipes took over the Broward Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions of­fice in 2003, she was the fig­ure with years of ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence who would steady an of­fice that was reel­ing from what Gov. Jeb Bush called “in­com­pe­tence” and “mis­fea­sance.”

On Fri­day, fol­low­ing a court agree­ing with a law­suit brought by Gov. Rick Scott that Snipes had vi­o­lated pub­lic records laws, she found her­self the tar­get of sim­i­lar calls for her re­moval from of­fice, and for the same rea­sons.

For 15 years, Snipes has served as Broward County’s elec­tions chief, with mixed re­sults. Long lines and vote counts that con­tin­ued long af­ter polls closed marred elec­tions in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2012, 2016 and, of course, this year.

Among other is­sues:

■ A court ruled she had bro­ken elec­tion law when she de­stroyed bal­lots from the 2016 elec­tion 12 months af­ter it, in­stead of the 22 months re­quired by fed­eral law.

■ A med­i­cal mar­i­juana amend­ment was left off some bal­lots in 2016.

■ Elec­tion re­sults in the 2016 pri­mary were posted

on the elec­tions of­fice’s web­site be­fore polls closed, an­other vi­o­la­tion of elec­tion law.

■ In 2012, al­most 1,000 un­counted bal­lots were dis­cov­ered a week af­ter the elec­tion

■ In 2004, some 58,000 mail-in bal­lots were not de­liv­ered to vot­ers, leav­ing elec­tion of­fi­cials to scram­ble to send new ones.

And now, af­ter days passed in which Snipes could not or would not say how many bal­lots re­mained to be counted, and failed to give reg­u­lar up­dates to the state ev­ery 45 min­utes as re­quired by law, she was hit with a law­suit by Scott’s Se­nate cam­paign and the Na­tional Repub­li­can Se­nate Com­mit­tee de­mand­ing she in­form the pub­lic how many votes re­mained to be counted.

Snipes in­sists she is mak­ing sure all the votes are counted, and Democrats are ask­ing for pa­tience. But af­ter years of long waits and un­usual hap­pen­ings around elec­tions, Repub­li­cans say she is in­com­pe­tent at best, cor­rupt at worst, and that she needs to go.

Upon Scott’s vic­tory in court, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Wal­ton Beach, an ar­dent sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, called on Scott to re­move Snipes from of­fice.

“I call on @FLGovS­cott to im­me­di­ately sus­pend Brenda Snipes,” Gaetz wrote on Twit­ter. “She has failed to fol­low state trans­parency laws dur­ing this elec­tion, and has a long his­tory of mis­con­duct, in­clud­ing pre­emp­tively de­stroy­ing bal­lots.”

Al­though a North Florida con­gress­man, Gaetz was out­side the Broward elec­tions of­fice Fri­day, along with about 75 Repub­li­can pro­tes­tors who chanted “lock her up,” “bye, bye Brenda,” and “stop the steal.”

Even the pres­i­dent got in on the act, tweet­ing, “In the 2016 Elec­tion I was win­ning by so much in Florida that Broward County, which was very late with vote tab­u­la­tion and prob­a­bly get­ting ready to do a ‘num­ber,’ couldn’t do it be­cause not enough peo­ple live in Broward for them to fal­sify a vic­tory!”

Trump won Florida by 1.2 per­cent of the vote.

Snipes has not re­sponded to any of the crit­i­cism and avoided me­dia through­out the day Fri­day, ex­it­ing the elec­tions of­fice through the back door.

If Snipes were to be re­moved by Scott, who al­luded to “ram­pant fraud” in a speech Thurs­day, she would be the sec­ond Broward County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions to lose the po­si­tion due to be­ing re­moved by the gover­nor for poor job per­for­mance.

Gov. Jeb Bush re­moved Snipes’ pre­de­ces­sor, Miriam Oliphant, in 2003 af­ter a dis­as­trous 2002 elec­tion in which polls opened late and closed early af­ter ex­pe­ri­enced se­nior staff had been fired by Oliphant and re­placed by friends and ac­quain­tances with lit­tle or no ex­pe­ri­ence.

Bush named Snipes to re­place Oliphant, and Snipes won elec­tion in 2004 and ev­ery four years sub­se­quently.

Born in Tal­ladega, Ala., Snipes moved to Florida in 1964 with her hus­band as they be­gan their ca­reers as ed­u­ca­tors. Snipes started her ca­reer as a teacher at Blanche Ely High School in Pom­pano Beach and even­tu­ally be­came prin­ci­pal of Robert Markham El­e­men­tary School, also in Pom­pano Beach. She re­tired in June 2003 and was ap­pointed as su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions in No­vem­ber of the same year.

The re­moval of Oliphant had been a po­lit­i­cal firestorm, with a Repub­li­can gover­nor re­mov­ing Broward’s only coun­ty­wide black Demo­cratic of­fi­cial. Bush re­placed her with an­other black fe­male Demo­crat, pos­si­bly de­fus­ing some of the ten­sion.

The idea, then, that Snipes could be re­moved from of­fice with­out hav­ing com­mit­ted a se­ri­ous crime or eth­i­cal vi­o­la­tion is not with­out prece­dent. But what would be un­prece­dented is for Scott to do so while Snipes is de­ter­min­ing the bal­lot count in a race in which the gover­nor is run­ning.

Of course, Snipes could al­ways be re­moved the nat­u­ral way — through an elec­tion. She’s next up for elec­tion in 2020. But Snipes has eas­ily weath­ered pre­vi­ous at­tempts to re­move her from of­fice. In 2016, cit­ing many past is­sues with elec­tions dur­ing Snipes’ term in of­fice, David Brown ran against her in a Demo­cratic pri­mary. He even gar­nered the en­dorse­ment of the Sun Sen­tinel. He was de­feated 76-24.

She had no op­po­nent in 2012, but in 2008, she had both Demo­cratic and in­de­pen­dent op­po­nents, and beat them both with more than 80 per­cent of the vote.

In both 2008 and 2012, her op­po­nents pointed to the elec­tions of­fice’s his­tory of fail­ings un­der Snipes. She won any­way, and eas­ily.

In 2004, she won a three-way Demo­cratic pri­mary with 65 per­cent of the vote. One of her op­po­nents was Oliphant, in a last-ditch at­tempt to get her job back.

The peo­ple de­cided the new su­per­vi­sor was bet­ter than re­turn­ing to the old one that had been re­moved for in­com­pe­tence, and Snipes never looked back.

MIKE STOCKER/SUN SEN­TINEL

Broward County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions Brenda Snipes

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