Breaking News Emails
Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
Nov. 13, 2018 / 3:33 PM GMT / Updated 4:40 PM GMT
By Alex Seitz-Wald
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — When county elections officials start drawing national attention, it’s generally because something has gone very wrong.
That’s the situation that Brenda Snipes, the supervisor of elections in Broward County now finds herself in as President Donald Trump cites potential election corruption on Twitter while his angry supporters rally outside her office with signs demanding her imprisonment.
On Tuesday, Trump referred to the “characters” running the Broward and Palm Beach counties’ ballot counting and accused them of trying to ‘”find” votes to help Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
It’s not the first time Snipes has found herself at the center of controversy or faced accusations of incompetence and wrongdoing, but the stakes have never been so high.
So who is Brenda Snipes?
Snipes spent most of her career as a public school teacher and principal and only got into election administration after her the previous officeholder was ousted following the disastrous 2000 presidential recount.
An African-American and a Democrat, Snipes was appointed to clean up the county’s election system in 2003 by a Republican, former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was sensitive to the politics of removing her black Democratic predecessor in the the heavily Democratic county.
Snipes went on to win reelection four times, including most recently in 2016, always by wide margins.
Now, Bush has now joined other Republicans in calling for Snipes’ removal from office, saying on Twitter that she “failed to comply with Florida law on multiple counts, undermining Floridians’ confidence in our electoral process.”
Bush is hardly alone in his criticism, and it’s not just coming from Republicans. Florida media outlets have uncovered numerous election administration issues over many years and the editorial board of the Sun Sentinel, the largest newspaper in Broward County, called on her to resign.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told Politico that Broward County is “not just the most troubled elections office in the state, it’s the most troubled elections office in the nation.”
Even some Democrats here say privately that while they admire Snipes’ decades of dedication to her community, her competence at the nitty gritty work of election administration leaves something to be desired. A Democrat even ran against her in a primary 2016, citing her office’s past issues, but he lost badly.
A judge earlier this year ruled that Snipes’ office had broken the law by not preserving ballots as long as they were required following the 2016 election.
That year, her office left a referendum on medical marijuana off some ballots. And before that, it accidentally posted the results of the presidential primary before polls closed — a big no no since early returns becoming public can influence voters who have yet to cast their ballots. And in 2012, nearly 1,000 uncounted ballots were discovered a week after the election.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened in Broward,” Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman said at the time.
During this year’s recount, Snipes has been criticized for not giving up-to-date information on how many ballots remain uncounted and for processing 22 voided ballots that were accidentally mixed in with valid ones.
Snipes has denied any wrongdoing and said she and her staff are doing the best they can given the huge number of ballots — about 714,000 — the large county needs to process. “We ran 22 sites, we ran 14 days, we ran 12 hours (a day), we had a big vote by mail, so don’t try to turn it around to make it seem like I’m making comedy out of this,” she told reporters.
But most critically for the recount, a poorly designed ballot has put Snipes’ office at the center of the recount controversy.
Nelson’s only hope to make up his roughly 12,500-vote deficit behind outgoing Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate could rest with that ballot, which Democrats’ hope was misread by machines on election night.
Add to that the fact that Broward is one of Florida’s most populous and most heavily Democratic counties, and it’s easy to see why Republicans have focused so much attention on Snipes.
Still, their most explosive claims against her have fizzled. For instance, empty boxes that some on social media said contained uncounted ballots turned out to hold nothing but supplies like clipboards and “Vote Here” signs.
A Broward County judge on Monday reiterated that he had seen no evidence of voter fraud, as Trump and others had claimed, asking attorneys to present some evidence before continuing their rhetoric about it.
And Snipes has plenty of defenders, as evident by her easy victories.
“She’s a woman full of integrity, and I’m sure that’s why Jeb Bush appointed her,” said Grace Carrington, a Democratic Committee National committeewoman who knows her. “He’s a Republican, so if he didn’t have confidence in her, I don’t believe he would have done that.”