I have lots of gripes with the Broward Supervisor of Elections office. Unlike her counterparts in Palm Beach, Orange, Hillsborough, Leon and Miami-Dade, Broward SOE Dr. Brenda Snipes has done little to educate voters about upcoming elections and to make voting more accessible to the masses. Broward County is the best performing Democratic urban county in the southeastern United States, yet time and again voter turnout is among the lowest in the state. Traveling the state as I do, I’ve seen time and again the types of voter outreach programs offered in other counties absent in Broward County. The Broward SOE website is arguably the worst of any major urban county in the state. For years, I have been frustrated that Dr. Snipes calls herself a Democrat because she has done little to help empower citizens. But that of course is her business, her philosophy- the electorate in Broward County has kept Dr. Snipes in office for over a decade and thus seem to be satisfied with her unwillingness to run an aggressive outreach or voter education effort.
Dr. Snipes replaced the controversial Miriam Oliphant, who from my vantage point made an effort to engage voters and reach new citizens. However, Ms. Oliphant was caught up in scandal on Primary Day 2002 (when several ballots went missing and were later found in a file cabinet) and was removed from office by Governor Bush in 2003. Dr. Snipes was appointed by Governor Bush to replace her and has been reelected three times. It is perhaps insignificant but worth noting that both Oliphant and Dr. Snipes are African-American.
But perhaps the biggest strike against Dr. Snipes has been registered this year in the debacle surrounding the District 2 County Commission race. The local campaign which was initially one of the highest profile August races in Florida’s second most-populated county has quick descended into a farce thanks largely to the SOE’s office lack of preparedness around the matter.
In a nutshell the eligibility over the write-in candidate and whether the race was simply a Democratic Primary or a General Election caused confusion. In fairness to Dr. Snipes, write-in candidacies have been abused routinely since 2002 when the current laws governing primary elections were first implemented. The loopholes around write-ins were quickly exploited by major party candidates and served to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Florida voters from choosing their county and state officials.
This all having been said, Dr. Snipes inability to prepare properly for the situation around the District 2 election and the invalidating of the primary election in August now followed by the race being taken off the November ballot is costing Broward taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and preventing District 2 residents (which include myself) from our proper representation on the Commission. An elections office has to be prepared for these sorts of circumstances. The lawsuit and controversy over the District 2 race and a write-in candidate is not unprecedented in the post-2002 history of the state. But Broward’s SOE was unprepared for it, similarly to how more election day snafus and counting issues routinely seem to take place in Broward than any other major urban country in the state. The counting debacles and other errors during Dr. Snipes tenure were in many cases avoidable with better staff and more prepared poll workers.
Having an avoidable Special Election in District 2 is unacceptable. But given how poorly this situation has been handled, the bungling of the election means the scheduling of an expensive one-off Special Election was probably inevitable.
Let us hope this debacle wakes the Broward SOE office up and we can avoid such problems in the future.