During Florida recount, racial tensions are on display

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent
A man holding a flag verbally insults another man outside Broward County election offices during a ballot recount in Lauderhill, Fla. (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

LAUDERHILL, Fla. — The man stood outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office, holding a Betsy Ross version of the American flag and wondering out loud whether to go to his car and get his gun.

“They’re telling me they’re going to kick my cracker ass,” said Ryan Farley, a self-employed construction worker who was protesting against what he believes were Democratic attempts to steal the election, despite the lack of any evidence of this occurring.

Farley, who is white, told Yahoo News he had become engaged in a series of back-and-forth insults with a group of five or six African-American men who worked inside the elections office and were sitting outside while on break.

Farley said the elections office workers had insulted him first, making obscene gestures and yelling at him. Three different elections workers told Yahoo News that Farley had begun the exchange, shouting at them and pointing his flag at them like it was a machine gun.

Farley, a married father of four, recounted the exchange this way.  “I go, ‘Don’t be monkeying around,’” he said.

Farley defended his language. “He’s the one who’s putting himself in the monkey category,” Farley said of one man who had been insulting him. “If anyone’s racist, it’s calling me a cracker.”

The elections office workers told Yahoo News that Farley didn’t just use the term “monkeying around.” He actually called them “monkey,” they said. They did not wish to give their names.

At one point, five or six office workers walked within 10 feet of Farley on their way back into the elections building, and Farley scampered away, clearly nervous about a physical confrontation.

The office workers glared at him.

An Andrew Gillum sign inside a bin in Lauderhill, Fla. (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

“I don’t know if I should go get my gun and come back or just haul ass and get out of here. But I want to be here. I shouldn’t be chased away,” Farley said. He said he was glad that Florida has a “stand your ground” law that gives gun owners wide latitude in deciding to use their gun if they feel threatened in any way.

The ugly incident — which appears at this point to be an isolated one — highlighted how rhetoric used during the campaign by a white Republican for governor, Ron DeSantis, had spread to interactions between citizens. In late August, DeSantis said Florida voters should not “monkey this up” by electing Democrat Andrew Gillum, who is black. The remark was widely viewed as a racist comment.

Now, Gillum and DeSantis are in a recount, with the Republican candidate holding a slim lead. The U.S. Senate race is also in a recount, along with the contest for agriculture commissioner, one state Senate seat, and two state House seats.

The recount has a deadline of 3 p.m. Thursday. If the margin between two candidates in any race is less than 0.25 percent at that point, then the counties will begin hand-counting ballots that were read by machines as showing no votes or as showing votes for too many candidates. These are called undervotes and overvotes.

The deadline for counties to finish and report the results of a manual recount would be this Sunday at noon.

The Senate race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and sitting Governor Rick Scott is more likely to go to hand recount than the governor’s race. Scott leads by 12,562 votes, which is a difference of only 0.15 percent. DeSantis’s lead over Gillum is 0.41 percent.

But it’s not just the governor’s race that has been racially charged. Broward County, the coastal county just north of Miami-Dade that includes Fort Lauderdale, is a Democratic stronghold. Around 700,000 voters cast ballots here, and 69 percent of those went for Nelson. If the race goes to a hand recount, Broward will be key to Nelson’s hopes of catching and overtaking Scott’s vote total.

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes answers questions at the Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. on Nov. 12, 2018. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)

The Broward County voters office is run by an African-American woman, Brenda Snipes, who has come under tremendous criticism. She suggested Tuesday that some of this criticism might be racially motivated.

Snipes said that she was appointed to her job in 2003 after “the removal of another black woman in this office.”

“I don’t know why we get a bigger spotlight than some,” Snipes said. “I have worked for 15 years tirelessly for the voters of Broward County, and I will continue to do this until my time is up.”

Snipes also said that it is “sort of hard to rule out race,” as a motive for criticism of her, but added, “I won’t say, ‘Oh, I’m black woman and that’s why.’ I’m not saying that.”

And, in fact, there are also Democrats who criticize Snipes for her handling of the office, especially over the last few years. Local media have reported on numerous screw-ups in ballot design, record-keeping and tallying of results, although there has been no evidence of intentional tampering. Rumors of Snipes’s departure or removal have been flying since before this election.

“I suspect she won’t be here for long … whether she is suspended from office, she leaves office early or she’s voted out,” state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat, told Politico.

But the wild accusations of voter fraud by President Trump, Scott and other Republicans — despite a lack of evidence and despite multiple findings that none has occurred by state agencies and judges — plays into the narrative that Democrats commit voter fraud primarily in urban areas where African-American populations are high.

Farley echoed that belief. “Our votes are being stolen right now as we stand here,” he said.

He also said incorrectly that the entire workforce at the Broward elections office was African-American. It is not.

“I’ve been here for two days. Not one white person works here,” Farley said.

But inside the building, reporters, elections lawyers and volunteers were able to observe

Judge Deborah Carpenter-Toye, left, Canvassing Board member, shows political observers a test ballot that needs replacing at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office, Nov. 12, 2018, in Lauderhill, Fla. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)

County employees behind glass windows, feeding ballots into machines. About half the employees in the room were white.

Nonetheless, Farley, egged on by politicians like Scott who said Nelson is “trying to commit fraud to steal this election,” is angry. The protests outside Broward were quieter Tuesday than they were over the weekend, but will ramp back up if either the Senate or Governor’s races go to a hand recount.

Farley said that tension between blacks and whites will certainly lead to violence.

“I don’t hate black people, but I’m just not going to be f***ing walked on,” Farley said. “And guess who’s got all the guns? You think black people have guns? They got a couple little guns. We got f***ing arsenals. It’s f***ing ridiculous. But we’re not going to get walked on.”

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