Snipes, 75, was condemned for sending results two minutes after 3pm deadline in the race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson
A top elections official in Florida who endured national humiliation after missing a midterms recount deadline by two minutes has told the Guardian that racism is “probably” a factor in the backlash against her.
Brenda Snipes, elections supervisor of Broward county, was condemned by Republicans and Democrats after failing to submit tallies in the US Senate race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson on schedule.
On Friday, with a hand count of votes under way, about two dozen protesters continued their vigil in a car park outside Snipes’s headquarters. Some claimed without evidence that she had missed the deadline deliberately because the results she oversaw boosted Scott’s overall lead.
In a short interview, Snipes, 75, said: “You know, the protesters have been claiming stuff all week so whatever they’re doing, that’s what they’re doing. That’s what they feel like they need to do.”
Asked if she felt it was racially motivated, the supervisor replied: “Probably. Probably.” She declined to elaborate.
Snipes had promised “100%” in a CNN interview earlier this week that Broward county, a Democratic stronghold, would complete its machine recount on time. It appeared to do so with just under 15 minutes to spare before Thursday’s 3pm deadline. The recount showed Scott, currently the Republican governor of Florida, down 606 votes from the first count and Nelson down 1,385 – a net gain for Scott of 779 votes.
But mysteriously, Snipes only sent the results to the Florida secretary of state at 3.02pm on Thursday, rendering the entire exercise a waste of time and money. The state reverted to the county’s first tallies instead. Two other counties in Florida also blew past the deadline.
On Friday Snipes offered little by way of explanation. “We had a lot of information to input and we ran two minutes over and the deadline was three o’clock,” she told the Guardian. “I don’t think anything was a glitch; it’s just a lot of information to be input.”
Outside the building, where Republican demonstrators included two “Bikers for Trump”, some claimed without evidence that Snipes had deliberately missed the deadline. Jody Steinlauf, 60, an estate agent, said: “It was intentional. They found 760 votes in favour of us. She knew if she waited past the deadline, they wouldn’t be counted.
“You can’t trust anything she does. They were deliberately wasting taxpayers’ money. Look what they’re doing with the Mueller investigation. They don’t know how to lose. They can’t lose graciously. They have to fight us.”
Nicholas Ciacelli, 64, who owns a flag company, said: “If you look up the word ‘incompetence’ in the dictionary, it’s Brenda Snipes’s photograph. Everyone knows she’s incompetent but somehow she keeps her job.”
A former schools administrator, Snipes was appointed in 2003 by Jeb Bush, then the Republican governor of Florida, but in the wake of the midterms debacle he has called for her removal. He is not alone.
Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, and expert in election law, tweeted on Thursday: “If there is a worse election administrator in the entire country than Brenda Snipes, I’m not aware of that person.”
Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist and consultant, posted in response: “I’m going to say this is a long time Florida and national political operative. She’s the worst anywhere. My Democratic friends hate her with the same robust vigor as do my Republican friends.”
Following the state-wide machine recount on Thursday, Scott had a lead of 12,603 votes out of 8 million cast, equivalent to 0.15% – within the threshold of 0.25% that triggers a hand recount according to state law.
This does not review all votes. It involves about 93,000 ballots that were not recorded by voting machines because voters cast either two votes for one race, which is called an overvote, or appeared to choose no candidate, which is an undervote. The idea is to figure out a voter’s intent.
Broward county had the most overvotes and undervotes of any Florida county: almost 31,000. On Friday officials sat at a big U-shaped table inside a warehouse and reviewed contentious votes one by one, projecting them on to a screen. Snipes could be seen observing the process.
She has been criticised for designing ballot papers so that the Senate race was tucked away in one corner that many voters might have missed.
Nate Silver, editor-in-chief of the FiveThirtyEight website, tweeted: “Bad ballot design led to a lot of undervotes for Bill Nelson in Broward county, possibly even enough to cost him his Senate seat. They do appear to be real undervotes, though, instead of tabulation errors. He doesn’t really seem to have a path to victory.”
Other analysts agreed that Nelson’s hopes are fast receding, but the incumbent Democratic senator is refusing to concede and is still battling in the courts for more votes to be counted.
The contest for governor also seem to be all but over, with a machine recount showing the Republican Ron DeSantis with a big enough advantage over Democrat Andrew Gillum to avoid a hand recount.
However, Gillum tweeted on Friday: “The deadline has been extended so that we #CountEveryVote. If you had an issue with your Vote-By-Mail or Provisional Ballot, you have until Saturday at 5 p.m. to cure it. Go to andrewgillum.com/vote to get the right information for your Supervisor of Elections.”