If we wanted to steal an election, we could have done better
We don’t get enough credit around here for our outright incompetence.
Protesters outside Broward County’s ballot counting center in Lauderhill have been fairly bursting with assertions that us locals are engaged in an elaborate criminal conspiracy to steal the Florida election for the Dems. Never mind that the purported heist, thus far, has come up 12,000 votes short in the U.S. Senate election,
34,000 in the governor’s race.
Seems to me that if Broward Countians were going to risk prison for perverting an election, we’d make sure our felonious endeavor didn’t come up several thousand votes short.
Some conspiracy. Next time, let’s break into Tiffany’s and steal a Timex.
Yet, the gaggle of protesters outside the Broward elections headquarters in Lauderhill refuses to accept that the county’s election foibles were less about criminal intent than ordinary ineptitude. They held hand-scrawled signs insisting that Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes was a scheming crook. “Fake Votes.” “Supervisor of Corruptions” and the well-worn: “Lock Her Up.”
They’re taking their cue from Rick Scott, current governor and apparent senator-elect, who declared, “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try and steal this election from the great people of Florida.”
And from our ever-hyperbolic president, who’s been obsessed with election conspiracy theories since Hillary Clinton outpolled him by 2.9 million in the popular vote. Trump refused to acknowledge that mismanagement might explain why Broward had failed to tabulate all the county’s votes by election night. “When they call this woman incompetent, they’re wrong,” Trump told the Daily Caller. He insisted Snipes is “very competent but in a bad way.”
Actually, the Republicans ought to be toasting Brenda Snipes. Gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and especially Rick Scott just might owe their political fortunes to her bungling. There’s a
68 percent chance that if a Broward ballot goes missing, or if a would-be voter is frustrated by the long lines and goes home, or if one of her counting machines goes haywire, those lost votes had been intended for Democrats.
In one of the more confounding tabulations,
26,105 Broward ballots failed to register votes for either Senate candidate. No other county comes close to such an undervote. Maybe that was due to mechanical scanning errors (incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson’s slim hopes hinge on a machine failure). More likely, say election experts, voters were confused by the design of the election ballot used in certain south county precincts. Senate choices were consigned to the lower left-hand corner of the page, just below the Creole language ballot instructions. Presumably, most of those lost votes would have gone to Nelson, who carried the county with a 68.91 percent advantage and probably would have polled an even higher percentage in those particular precincts.
The confusing ballot was like a valentine from Snipes to Scott. Yet he seems so utterly unappreciative.
Besides, down here in Broward, we know incompetence when we see it. We know mismanagement. We elected Miriam Oliphant as election supervisor back in 2000.
Oliphant, before Gov. Jeb Bush yanked her from office in 2003, busted her budget by more than a million bucks. She missed crucial meetings, lost absentee ballots, failed to update voter rolls. She demonstrated breathtaking ignorance about the workings of her office. She fired key staffers who might have salvaged the wreckage. She replaced them with unqualified cronies, including her sister’s erratic boyfriend, who was put in charge of the mailroom (where he misplaced 300 absentee ballots). She overpaid them with money her office didn’t have.
The problems Oliphant created in the elections office became excruciatingly obvious to anyone in Broward County with even a vague interest in the democratic process. She was mucking up elections. Oliphant heaped blame on her own employees, on other county officials, on her vendors, on the media. Until Bush intervened, removing her for “grave neglect, mismanagement and incompetence.” (Like I said. We know mismanagement and incompetence when we see it.)
Bush appointed Brenda Snipes to replace Oliphant. (Thanks a lot, Jeb.)
Obviously, she wasn’t the answer. Broward County needs a numbers-crunching computer nerd to run elections. The county needs a technogeek with thick glasses, soup-stained tie and a pocket protector protruding from the breast pocket of his short-sleeved J.C. Penny dress shirt. We need someone who prefers algorithms to applause lines. Someone who’ll track down missing votes with the intensity of a mother seeking her infants.
Instead, we’ve made a former school marm the guardian of democratic expression for 1,184,571 registered voters, with a warehouse full of outdated technology and a mandate to execute unworkable state recount laws.
“We have been the laughing stock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said in court Thursday. He was talking about the state legislature, not Brenda Snipes.
So don’t blame us. Broward may have bungled an election, but as my old uncle (a local pol in a West Virginia county where elections hung on the strategic distribution of half-pints bottles of whiskey) might have said, “We didn’t steal the damn election. It ain’t even stole.”
Fred Grimm (@grimm_fred or [email protected]), a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, has worked as a reporter and columnist in South Florida since 1976.