With Next Elections Three Months Away, Broward Faces Crisis In Voter Confidence
Many Broward County voters are not confident in their elections office.
The drama following the November election put three close statewide races - and Broward's reputation - in the national spotlight. And weeks after midterm recounts ended, voters continue to ask what went wrong.
"This is how you lose trust in the system, when you have shenanigans like this," said Rebecca Kanakis, who expressed concern recently outside the Lauderhill elections warehouse. Voters from both political parties came to protest during the recounts.
"I didn't get any validation that my vote had counted," said protester Eva D’achiardi.
Now, the county has to convince voters and the country that it knows how to count, and that it is reliable, transparent and trustworthy. Voters will be asked to make decisions in just three months. Special elections for municipalities, including Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, are slated for March 12, 2019.
After the midterms, the Broward county elections office took longer than other counties to tally early votes and vote by mail ballots. It also missed a deadline by mere minutes and boxes with thousands more ballots got misfiled and misplaced around the warehouse.
Now, a battle between former Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and former Gov. Rick Scott over control of the office has added to voter fatigue.
Former Supervisor of Elections for Leon County Ion Sancho oversaw dozens of elections in his 28 year-long career. When he retired two years ago, local newspaper The Tallahassee Democrat dubbed him "the voters' advocate."
Sancho believes supervisors of elections have an impact on whether voters feel heard.
"I think a good supervisor of elections becomes emblematic of whether or not the system is working," Sancho said. "People look at the individual and based on their track record can say, 'this person inspires confidence.'"
He said a successful elections chief inspires confidence beyond the few days voters can go to the polls.
"It's broader than mere elections," Sancho said. "It's elections, candidates, petitions."
"Leadership is important, but organizational skills are paramount here," Sancho said.
At the end of the county's recount, Snipes admitted improvements are needed.
"There are some things that need to be tweaked on all sides in terms of the processes that make up elections," she said.
She would not answer questions about what exactly she would want to tweak.
Instead, she sent in her letter of resignation after 15 years in office. She intended to leave the job Jan. 4.
But then Gov. Scott suspended her - and named her replacement. Enterprise Florida CEO Peter Antonacci started the job Dec. 3. The Florida Senate still has three months to officially approve Scott’s decision to remove Snipes.
After her suspension was announced, Snipes tried to take back her resignation and fight the governor to keep her job.
"I think I'm numb...to everything," Protester Linda Schainberg said during the recount.
The Broward County Commission even asked its attorneys to look into Scott's appointment to make sure that it's fully legal. They asked what legal action the county can take if it's not.
Governor-elect Ron DeSantis visited Fort Lauderdale shortly after the recount and highlighted the pressure on Broward's elections office. He suggested he would take action once in office, saying "We need to get someone in there who's gonna run a problem-free election in 2020."
But Scott decided to make the change before he moves on to join the U.S. Senate.
"At this point, I don't think that Broward residents care if it's a Democrat or Republican - as long as it's somebody who's going to do the job right," said Nova Southeastern University Professor Charles Zelden, who became elections and recount expert after the infamous 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George Bush.
Zelden said Broward’s Supervisor of Elections needs to get to work quick.
"The person who is appointed has two years to organize the office and to basically prove to the people of Broward County that they've got the skill set to run the office properly," he said.