Election Coverage / Politics

One Last Time – Broward County’s Mess, Meaning for 2020

florida-broward-county-election-recount-brenda-snipesOne last time, let’s talk about Broward County, Florida – what it means for 2020 – then let’s move on.  In an age of unrepentant bullies in the White House press room, proliferating fake news, fatuous appeals to socialism from formerly level-headed Democrats, and conspiracies under every rock – let’s take a closer look at the Broward County mess.

Key facts.  For more than 20 years, this heavily democratic county has displayed messy electoral practices, anomalous tallies, questionable returns, and the odd habit of magical late votes – for Democrats.  In 2018, in closely fought races, this wayward county was true to form.

To be fair, although Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes resigned last week over the mismanagement – or “to spend more time with her family” – Broward’s missteps and botched elections predate Snipes.  Ironically, 15 years ago, she got appointed to clean up the mess.

So, what actually happened this time?  And what does it mean for 2020?  A lot and a lot.  Imagine someone of ill-will and insidious foresight running a test of legal challenges for 2020’s presidential election.  Where might they start?  What legal challenges place on the checklist?

Against the backdrop of media hype over foreign intervention in US elections, perhaps stirring some confusion, apprehension, and chaos would be useful.  Good to test.  To that mix, perhaps some allegations of prejudice, bias and voter suppression.  Seek media buy-in.

What might foment legal challenges?  Certainly they would have more staying power if folded into allegations involving multiple candidates, not just one, who might feel put out by losing.  Right?

What else?  Legal challenges should test a county’s fidelity to electoral procedures at the margins.  They should consider how far discrepancies are tolerated, what level of discrepancy produces no reaction, and what level results in an insurmountable barrier.

What else?  To what extent might non-reporting, miscalculation, lost and found ballots, deliberate bad acts – be dressed up as forgivable, mere “annoyances” – and let slide?  Especially in Democrat-controlled counties like Broward, exactly how much misbehavior is viewed as “too much?”

How else might local meddling limits be tested by some wily planner for 2020?  How much discordant behavior raises alarms for those who only want an honest election?  Perhaps a trial run on which excuses are viewed as credible, what level of perceived mismanagement allowed, and which procedures are most easily bent with forgiveness?

More nefarious still, are there overt acts that can be legally tested, to see how much can be gotten away with?  What if an effort were made to test open questions – for example, how many new votes can be “found” before someone cries foul, disallows them?  What happens if vote totals are not reported every 45 minutes as required?  What if, say, 2,000 votes are mysteriously “misplaced” or mysteriously “found” after deadline?  What happens if a key deadline is missed by, let’s say, two minutes – forgiven?

In a nutshell, how much undermining of public confidence will be permitted, and votes still counted? How much play in the proverbial steering is permitted before an electoral process veers off the road?  In short, what are the legal tolerances to an invariably imperfect but historically free electoral process?

No one is saying that any such sneaky legal test or trial run occurred in Broward County, in this election cycle.  No one is saying that either party is planning to loft a nationwide legal challenge to whatever the outcome is in 2020.  But goodness knows, 2018 was an odd midterm.

In Broward alone, chaos reigned from the start, allegations of lost, found, uncounted, recounted, and miscounted ballots, recriminations and cross volleys, legal challenges and sniping.  Notably, these challenges involved multiple candidates, not one.  A candidate up by 50,000 votes ended winning by just over 10,000, for no obvious reason.   A US Senator not up for reelection had to challenge electoral vagaries as more than an “annoyance,” while another candidate had to allege fraud.

Lawyers appeared from nowhere to defend these anomalies.  On election night, Broward failed to follow a panoply of established procedures, failed to report vote counts every 45 minutes, “misplaced” 2,000 ballots.  They missed a “key deadline” by two minutes, and the 15-year election supervisor defended this chaos, until resigning.

Where does this point?  Not clear, but certainly very curious – nowhere more curious than Broward County.  On November 6th, predicting the future, a Washington Post headline read: “Broken machines, rejected ballots, and long lines: voting problems emerge as Americans go to the polls.”  Bell weather.

In fact, the 2018 midterm cycle produced what seems a record number of legal challenges, as well as candidates who lost and conceded, un-conceded, and re-conceded.  In Georgia, a gubernatorial candidate will not admit she lost, but appears willing to concede she is not governor.  In other locations, America saw the first-time influence of very early voting, very late voting and very questionable voting.

In Florida, home to Broward County, final concessions now have been made by the Democrat Senator – after a manual recount – and by the Democrat gubernatorial candidate.  Results are certified for two Republicans.  But enough on Broward 2018 … On to 2020, which promises to be one for the ages – and, want to bet, for the lawyers!

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