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Sunday December 15th, 2019 5:05PM

Florida official known for missteps in recount cross hairs

By The Associated Press
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — At the center of Florida's vote recount storm is an elections supervisor with a checkered past whose Democratic-dominated county has been the target of protests and accusations, including by President Donald Trump, that something fraudulent is afoot.

Lawyers for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is in a razor-thin Senate race with incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, have claimed that Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes committed fraud without presenting any evidence. Trump has echoed those claims on Twitter.

State monitors and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement say there are no indications of fraud in the county's vote.

Yet, Snipes, a Democrat, remains a target for the GOP, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed her to the post in 2003 when the previous supervisor was accused of malfeasance and now says Snipes should be removed. Snipes has been re-elected since then, and is unapologetic about her record.

"I've worked here for about 15 years, and I have to say this the first time that this office or I have been under such attacks," Snipes told reporters Monday. "There have been issues that haven't gone the way we wanted it. You can call it a mistake or you can call it whatever you want to call it."

On Tuesday, Snipes hinted to reporters that she might not run for re-election in 2020 — "It is time to move on," she said — but quickly added that no final decision has been made.

"I'll check with my family and they'll tell me what I'm doing," she said.

Since Snipes has been in office, there seems to be a long list of these mistakes.

Earlier this year, for example, a judge ruled she broke election law by destroying ballots in a 2016 congressional primary race involving Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz without waiting the required 22 months. Also in 2016, a medical marijuana amendment didn't appear on some Broward ballots, and again that year results from primary elections were posted on the office's website before polls had closed.

A week after the 2012 election, about 1,000 uncounted ballots were suddenly discovered. And in 2004, about 58,000 mail-in ballots were not delivered, requiring workers to hurry to replace them.

Just last week, a judge found that Snipes had violated Florida open records laws by failing to quickly provide voting records to attorneys for Scott's Senate campaign.

"This is not a case about counting votes. This is a simple case about access to information that the supervisor of elections was required to have and required to provide," said Scott lawyer Jordan Zimmerman. "This is simply public information the public is entitled to."

Snipes, 68, a native of Talladega, Alabama, moved to Broward County in 1964 to begin what became a long career as an educator. She eventually rose to become an area director in the public school system, leading principals from 16 schools, according to the supervisor's office web site.

In 2003 Bush appointed her to the supervisor's position after her predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, was removed from office because of numerous problems in the 2002 primary election.

Now Bush is calling for Snipes to be removed after the ongoing recount .

Scott has not commented on whether he would take such a step. However, in his nearly eight years as governor, Scott has only suspended or removed elected officials when they are charged with crimes.

Snipes remains a target of Trump and other Republicans, including a cadre of protesters who have sometimes broken into chants of "lock her up," mainly because of their claims she is trying to tilt the elections for Senate and governor to the Democrats. Scott has a slim lead over Nelson and Republican Ron DeSantis is ahead of Democrat Andrew Gillum for governor.

Elections experts, however, say it's not unusual for contested or provisional votes in "blue" Democratic counties like Broward to mainly support that party.

"It is no surprise that Democrats gain votes later in the counting process in part because big cities tend to contain lots of Democratic votes, and given their population, cities take much longer to count," said Richard Hasen, law professor at the University of California-Irvine and author of books on election controversies, in an opinion article Monday in Slate.

"Although nerve-wracking, there's nothing at all nefarious about any of this protracted counting," he added.

Snipes' attorney, Eugene Pettis, said "people are going to scream fraud no matter what" and that the Broward process is moving forward in an orderly fashion. Snipes insists Broward will meet the Thursday deadline for all votes to be sent to the State Department.

"It takes time to go through those ballots. It should not be missed on anyone that state law permits until 12 o'clock four days after the election to submit your preliminary results. If it didn't take up to four days, the law wouldn't have put that in there," Pettis said.

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Associated Press video reporter Josh Replogle and writer Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://miamicurt@twitter.com

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