In what is an ironic twist of events it has come to light, the elections supervisor in Florida’s second-most populous county broke state and federal law by unlawfully destroying ballots cast in Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s 2016 Democratic primary. This is according to a recent ruling by a judge in a case brought by the congresswoman’s challenger who wanted to check for voting irregularities.
The ruling states the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office violated state and federal laws by destroying ballots from a 2016 Congressional race too soon — and while the ballots were the subject of a lawsuit against the office.
The ruling does allow Wasserman Schultz’s challenger Tim Canova to have the attorney fees he has paid be reimbursed by the elections office. Leonard Collins, his attorney, said those costs exceed $200,000 already. This leaves Florida taxpayers on the hook for Wasserman Schultz and her unethical behavior yet again. This recent ruling stems from Canova’s bid to unseat Wasserman Schultz in the primary race for the Democratic seat. Canova lost the race by roughly 57% to 43% or 28,809 votes to 21,907.
Canova has also gotten the state of Florida to take interest in this case, and as a result, the governor’s office states that it plans to start election monitoring will be so “the citizens of Broward County can have the efficient, properly run election they deserve.”
According to the Sun-Sentinal –
“Canova, who was checking for voting irregularities in the race, sought to look at the paper ballots in March 2017 and took Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes to court three months later when her office hadn’t fulfilled his request. Snipes approved the destruction of the ballots in September, signing a certification that said no court cases involving the ballots were pending.
Snipes called the action a ‘mistake’ during testimony she gave in the case, saying the boxes were mislabeled and there was ‘nothing on my part that was intentional’ about destroying the contested ballots.
‘When I sign, I sign folders filled with information,’ Snipes said in her testimony, later adding: ‘I trust my staff. They have the responsibility of giving me information that’s correct.’
Circuit Judge Raag Singhal ruled Friday that Snipes wrongly destroyed public records because:
— The elections office is required to maintain the ballots in federal elections for 22 months, while Snipes destroyed the ballots after 12 months, which is the retention period for state elections.
The ballots were the subject of a pending lawsuit, so it would take a court order from the judge in the case to allow their destruction.
Snipes ‘has not presented any evidence refuting that the public records sought were destroyed while this case was pending before this court,’ Singhal said.
Snipes will appeal the decision, said her attorney, Burnadette Norris-Weeks.
‘We think the judge is wrong,’ Norris-Weeks said.
The elections office never refused to provide access to the ballots, she said.
Instead, it rejected a request by Canova to use outside equipment to scan the ballots, Norris-Weeks said. Also, it didn’t receive a partial payment to cover the costs of the public records request until days before the suit was filed and the scanned copies of the ballots it can currently provide are ‘accurate and inherently reliable,’ she said.
‘It was a mistake [destroying the original ballots], but the ballots were preserved,’ Norris-Weeks said. ‘They were scanned shortly after the election.'”
It is not currently known if the judge’s ruling in civil court will lead to charges being filed in criminal court against Snipes. A spokesman for Broward State Attorney Michael Satz stated a decision had not yet been made but that their office was in the process of obtaining a copy of the judge’s order and looking into it.
It is not currently known exactly what sort of monitoring system will be implemented in the coming months in an effort to ensure election integrity but Norris-Weeks states that she sees this as an effort by Republican state leaders to get some control over the heavily Democratic county.
Canova, who currently works as a professor at Nova Southeastern University, is calling for Snipes to be fired as she failed in one of her most important duties, as well as violating the trust of the citizens of Broward County and of the state of Florida. He states that given the ruling and the circumstances – “I think dismissal is an appropriate remedy.”
The judge’s ruling in the case cited previous legal precedence that held “dismissal was an appropriate sanction for failing to preserve evidence ‘even though the destruction of evidence may have resulted from negligence rather than an attempt to obstruct justice.’”
Collins stated of Canova and the events that transpired – “He was absolutely stonewalled by the supervisor of elections. When they were required to provide the records to us, they destroyed them.”
Canova announced in April that he plans to leave the Democratic Party but also fully intends to challenge Wasserman Schultz to a rematch in November as a candidate with no party affiliation.