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Sorting out fact from fiction in the Florida recounts

A crowd protests outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla., on Nov. 9, 2018. (AP) A crowd protests outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla., on Nov. 9, 2018. (AP)

A crowd protests outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla., on Nov. 9, 2018. (AP)

By Kyra Haas November 14, 2018
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 14, 2018

Florida’s midterm recount has both parties furiously filing litigation, making the rounds on national TV, firing off attacks on Twitter and pleading for donations to fund their fights for U.S. Senate and the governor’s mansion.

Practically everyone seems mad at Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who has been accused of corruption or incompetence as her county tabulated ballots slower than nearly every other county in the state.

The fast-moving situation creates an atmosphere rife for misinformation. PolitiFact is here to help voters sort out the facts from fiction.

Has there been fraud in the ballot counting in Broward County?

Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump have alleged fraud in the ballot counting in Broward County, a liberal bastion. The issue is important to Scott, whose political future hangs on a narrow lead of thousands of votes over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.

Neither Republican provided any evidence of fraud. While Broward has a history of lawsuits and voting problems, that isn’t the same as fraud.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it had received no allegation of fraud and the state Division of Elections said with respect to Broward "our staff has seen no evidence of criminal activity at this time." The state's election office had been monitoring Broward’s elections due to an unrelated lawsuit about prematurely destroyed ballots that Snipes lost after the 2016 election.

State election officials have alerted federal prosecutors to possible election law violations. So far, the state appears to be raising questions about the Florida Democratic Party, not county elections officials.

Politico reported that on Nov. 9, the state Division of Elections sent a letter to federal prosecutors related to a form intended to serve as an affidavit to cure defects in vote-by-mail. While Florida law says that voters must return the forms on the day before the election, supervisors in at least four counties including Broward received altered forms wrongly directing the voter to return the form by Nov. 8. A chain of emails between supervisors and the state indicated that the information about the wrong date appeared to come from the Florida Democratic Party. A party spokeswoman couldn’t be reached by PolitiFact.

Did a Democratic lawyer say a noncitizen should have the right to vote?

Scott said on Fox News that a Nelson lawyer "said that a non-citizen should have the right to vote."

A Trump campaign fundraising email made an even bolder claim, saying that Democrats in Florida "fought to include votes from people who ARE NOT EVEN UNITED STATES CITIZENS."

This statement requires context; mainly, it pertains to comment about a single voter.

The Scott campaign sent a few lines of a transcript of the board meeting in which Susan Bucher, the Palm Beach elections supervisor, said a ballot was not counted because the person was "not a U.S. citizen." Lawyer Jack Scarola said "objection Nelson" followed by a similar objection by a lawyer for Gillum.

Scarola, a volunteer lawyer for Nelson, told us his objection was a joke.

"Everybody present recognized the fact there was no legal basis for raising an objection to a non-citizen casting a ballot," Scarola said in an interview. "We had been there for hours, raising many objections based upon a variety of other issues and this objection was raised and understood by the canvassing board and everyone present to have been raised in humor."

Scarola said in another instance, the board rejected an unsigned ballot by a voter whose last name was DeSantis, the same name as GOP candidate for governor Ron DeSantis. Scarola said he "raised a non-objection" — another joke.

Nelson's lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, said in a statement to the media that the lawyer at the meeting was "not someone we had authorized to make such an objection. Non-citizens cannot vote in U.S. elections."

Votes cast by non-citizens are statistically rare.

Why were there 25,000 fewer votes for Senate than governor in Broward?

It is not in dispute that there were about 25,000 fewer votes for Senate than governor in Broward County. But there is not a definitive answer as to why this occurred. Voters are allowed to skip any races they want on the ballot. But it is odd that Broward stands out here.

Nelson’s attorney suggested it could have been an issue with voting machines.

"The scanning equipment may not have caught it," Elias said.

But most of the theories relate to the ballot design in Broward, raising questions about whether some voters simply missed it. The Senate race question was placed in the same vertical column as the long list of voter instructions.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommends ballot instructions be "self-contained and separated from contest data."

The guidelines continue, "Vertical instruction treatments cannot share column space with contests," noting that test voters often overlooked races listed under vertical instructions.

Democratic consultant Matthew Isbell found that 3.7 percent of Senate ballot questions were left blank in Broward, "shattering any other county’s undervote."

"My theory is that the lack of a congressional race meant there was one less opportunity to spot that races existed on the bottom left," Isbell wrote.

Did tens of thousands of votes mysteriously show up after Election Day?

Scott and Trump have raised questions about why tens of thousands of votes showed up after Election Day.

The Tampa Bay Times found that Nelson’s vote total between 11 p.m. on election night and the following Friday rose by 93,475.

But it’s not a mystery. In the days following an election, vote totals normally go up. The Senate race’s post-Election Day ballot count garnered particular attention because the totals were close as Scott’s lead dwindled to about 13,000, prompting a recount.

Florida law allows until noon the Saturday after the election for ballots to be counted, and votes counted after the election were cast for both Nelson and Scott.

What is Brenda Snipes’ political affiliation?

The Broward County elections supervisor is a lifelong Democrat. Her biography on the Broward County supervisor of elections website also lists her as a Democrat. Numerous media reports and government documents confirm her Democratic party affiliation.

The party confusion probably stems from her 2003 appointment to the office by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican. Bush has now called for her to be removed from office following the recounts.

Were there more votes cast in Broward than registered voters?

No. Claims that there were more ballots cast than the number of registered voters are not supported by any evidence. Voter turnout in Broward County was about 61 percent, not 110 percent as some social media users claimed.

There have been 714,859 votes counted in Broward County so far, not more than 1.2 million.

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Our Sources

Politico, "Federal prosecutors reviewing altered election documents tied to Florida Democrats," Nov. 14, 2018

PolitiFact, "Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes is a Democrat, not a Republican," Nov. 14, 2018

PolitiFact, "No evidence Democrats and their allies ‘manufacturing voters’ in Florida recount," Nov. 13, 2018

PolitiFact, "No, Hillary Clinton did not meet with Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes," Oct. 31, 2016

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump and Rick Scott allege fraud in Broward, Palm Beach vote counting without any evidence," Nov. 13, 2018

South Florida Sun Sentinel, "Snipes starts re-election campaign for 2016," Sept. 22, 2015

Broward County Supervisor of Elections website

Real Clear Politics, "CNN's Chris Cuomo Interviews Brenda Snipes: "I Have Not Made Any Decisions" About Political Future," Nov. 14, 2018

Snopes, "Did Broward County record more votes than registered voters in November 2018?" Nov. 12, 2018

Tampa Bay Times, "No, President Trump, they haven’t only ‘found’ votes for Democrats in Florida," Nov. 9, 2018

Florida Department of State, "Military and Overseas Citizens Voting," accessed Nov. 14, 2018

Florida Department of State, "Timeline for Reporting and Certification of 2018 General Election Results," accessed Nov. 14, 2018

South Florida Sun Sentinel, "Florida recount: What's true and what's false," Nov. 13, 2018

Miami Herald, "Whoops! Brenda Snipes' office mixed bad provisional ballots with good ones," Nov. 9, 2018

Palm Beach Post, "Emotions rise, margins shrink," Nov. 10, 2018

Florida Today, "Recount drama," Nov. 10, 2018

Sun Sentinel, "Florida governor's race faces recount as Senate race gets even tighter," Nov. 8, 2018

Miami Herald, "Broward's Snipes says invalid ballots 'were never counted,' contradicting her attorney," Nov. 14, 2018

Tweet, Jeb Bush, Nov. 12, 2018

MCI Maps, "The numbers behind Broward County’s terrible ballot design," Nov. 13, 2018

Fox & Friends, "Scott: Nelson a sore loser who wants to steal the election," Nov. 12, 2018

Interview, Jack Scarola, attorney, Nov. 14, 2018

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Sorting out fact from fiction in the Florida recounts