For the last two years, the Democrats' strongest argument has been that it is dangerous when government officials violate laws and norms.
We hope this concern, surely shared by most of the major news media, extends to county election officials who are turning a vote count into a lawless circus.
Similarly, we hope that all the commentators who have spent two years fretting about the legitimacy of our democracy will join us in fretting about the legitimacy of the vote count in Florida.
Election Day was normal enough. Florida Gov. Rick Scott led incumbent Bill Nelson in the Senate race, and Rep. Ron DeSantis enjoyed a more comfortable but still small lead for governor over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Both Republicans declared victory. Gillum, at least, conceded. It was supposed to be over.
Although the vote was close and a recount is properly underway, the political warfare could already be behind us if it weren’t for the election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties. A week later, Florida still doesn’t know its next senator or governor, because these government officials just won't do their jobs.
Scott went too far when he accused the Broward County supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, of attempting “to steal this election.” But it's no exaggeration to say she has been breaking the law — repeatedly.
Broward and Palm Beach counties are both Democratic strongholds, and both, unlike the other 65 counties in the state, failed to meet state-mandated deadlines for counting ballots and reporting. Florida law requires that all early voting and all vote-by-mail results be reported to the Department of State 30 minutes after polls close. After that, election supervisors are to update voter tallies every 45 minutes until the counting is complete. That didn’t happen in Broward or Palm Beach.
Officials in Miami-Dade, the most populous county with the biggest voter log, worked around the clock to tally their votes and made their deadlines. Snipes didn’t. She sent her staff home around 2:30 a.m., flouting the law and, in effect, telling state officials they could wait.
Snipes also mixed provisional ballots that the election judges had rejected in with the provisional ballots they had accepted, as the Miami Herald reported. That's a major screw-up. What’s more, Snipes refused to tell either campaign how many votes were remaining and how many were left to be counted. In other words, she broke the law.
Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ordered Snipes to release those numbers on Friday. The judge also declared Snipes in violation of state public record laws. It is small legal victory after days of frantic legal and public relations work by Scott that has enabled Democrats to drolly ask, Why is Scott so afraid of all the votes being counted?
In truth, Scott has been demanding the votes be counted — or at least the gross number of ballots cast — in the time period and with the transparency prescribed by state law .
As things have gotten ugly, Republicans are crying fraud and Democrats are claiming voter suppression. The thing about this train wreck is that it could have been seen coming far down the tracks. Elections in Broward County have been a national disgrace for the better part of two decades, and Snipes has been suspect as recently as this summer.
Snipes ended up in court after the 2016 election, in which she ordered the illegal destruction of ballots from the Democratic primary between Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her progressive upstart primary challenger. State law requires each election office to preserve ballots for at least 22 months. Snipes shredded the ballots after a year, while they were still the subject of a pending lawsuit .
Now Snipes is in the middle of the biggest electoral hubbub since the 2000 presidential recount. Florida, no doubt, would be better off if the supervisor of elections had heeded the advice of the Sun Sentinel editorial board back in June when they deemed her “credibility past the tipping point” and asked for her resignation.
It isn’t clear yet whether her incompetence (or perhaps malevolence) will tip the Senate seat or governorship one way or the other. But Snipes is a living lesson of why we need government officials who are competent and who respect the law.