FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump repeated claims this week that votes were being “stolen” as part of the “corrupt Election process in Broward County” in 2018, and asserted “the ballot theft immediately ended” after he sent in the FBI and Justice Department.
There is no factual evidence to support Trump’s assertions about corruption, ballot theft, or the involvement of the FBI and Justice Department.
Multiple people, all of whom would have been in a position to know if Trump had, as president, done what he stated — “sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys” — disputed his contention on Friday.
—“Never happened,” said Sarah Isgur, who was spokeswoman for Trump’s Department of Justice at the time, wrote Friday on Twitter.
—Fred Bellis, who was operations director under then-Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, said the FBI “was working with us on cybersecurity,” but said he doesn’t remember FBI agents ever coming into the Broward elections office.
—One person with intimate knowledge of what was going on with Broward vote-counting in 2018 told the South Florida Sun Sentinel representatives from the FBI and Justice Department didn’t present themselves to election officials: “If the FBI and the U.S. attorney were there, I can tell you we didn’t know.”
—Another person involved in the process said, “If I had to testify, I would say what he said was completely false,” adding, “I have absolutely no recollection of that. That’s one of the things that would have stuck in my mind, I believe.”
Four people, none of whom worked for Snipes but had extensive knowledge of what was happening with vote counting, provided details Friday about what happened days following the 2018 voting. They declined to be named for several reasons, including not being authorized by their current employers and not wanting to get in-person or online blowback from Trump supporters.
A scathing 2020 audit from the Broward County auditor found multiple mistakes with the 2018 election, an assessment shared by many people familiar with what transpired — but not evidence of intentional wrongdoing or criminal activity.
“It’s totally untrue. There were no votes stolen,” said Bellis, who was a top Snipes lieutenant. “There was no fraud.”
And, in the end, those mistakes didn’t alter the results in any of the marquee races — Ron DeSantis becoming governor, and then-governor Rick Scott winning election to the U.S. Senate — or any of the six dozen races on the ballot in Broward.
U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Parkland, wrote Friday on Twitter that Trump’s statement was “an absolute lie. I was there. All sides had attorneys there. Multiple court appearances. The recount completed.” And, added Moskowitz, who was a state representative at the time, Democrats lost the races Trump said he was concerned about.
In the days after the 2018 election, vote counting was slow in Broward. A statewide recount intensified the focus. And Trump and other Republicans, amplified by the conservative media ecosystem, pushed the idea of wrongdoing in Broward County.
That produced a rush of interested citizens and news media from across the country who observed the post-election counting and recounting at the county’s Voter Equipment Center in Lauderhill — much of which was seen nationwide by cable TV viewers.
There were representatives from the state of Florida present, as well as teams of lawyers representing Scott, the state Republican Party (along with Democrats) and other candidates in close elections. No one at the time reported any evidence of wrongdoing.
On Nov. 1, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department is examining whether the tactics used at a Nov. 9, 2018, protest outside the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office, served as a model for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol in which Trump supporters tried to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election as president.
Trump made his assertions as part of a lengthy written statement issued Thursday evening by his Save America political action committee. It was a broadside against DeSantis, who won an overwhelming re-election victory on Tuesday, and may seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump, who is expected to announce his own candidacy for the presidential nomination next week, lifted DeSantis from obscurity in 2018. But as a potential 2024 clash looms, he’s turned on the governor.
The former president’s statement included this passage:
“I was all in for Ron, and he beat [Democrat Andrew] Gillum, but after the Race, when votes were being stolen by the corrupt Election process in Broward County, and Ron was going down ten thousand votes a day, along with now-Senator Rick Scott, I sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys, and the ballot theft immediately ended, just prior to them running out of the votes necessary to win. I stopped his Election from being stolen.”
Besides no evidence of votes being stolen, DeSantis’ and Scott’s totals weren’t going down “ten thousand votes a day” in Broward County. Although The Associated Press had declared DeSantis the winner on election night, the race was close enough to require a recount. Recounts were also taking place in the Senate race and the contest for state agriculture commissioner.
Ballot counting in Florida is overseen by the three-member elections Canvassing Board in each county. The 2018 board members were Snipes and county judges Deborah Carpenter-Toye and Betsy Benson.
“Because we’re sitting judges, we cannot comment on [Trump’s] comment,” Carpenter-Toye said, speaking on behalf of herself and Benson. “We would be commenting on a political statement, which we’re not permitted to do.”
Snipes, responding via Bellis, was not available to comment on Friday.
FBI spokesman James Marshall said Friday via email that, “The FBI is not commenting on this matter.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys’ Office with the Southern District of Florida couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, which was a government holiday for Veterans Day.
The allegations of impropriety about Broward vote counting from Trump aren’t new.
Three days after Election Day in 2018, Trump joined the chorus of Republican critics complaining about the pace of vote counting in Broward, the Democratic stronghold where votes had narrowed the race that Scott went on to win.
Trump at the time said there were “really bad things” going on in Broward and went after then-Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.
“If you look at Broward County, they have had a horrible history,” Trump told reporters in 2018 before boarding the presidential helicopter Marine One. “And if you look at the person, in this case a woman, involved, she has had a horrible history.”
Trump added an assertion that Republicans were making, without evidence. “And all of a sudden they are finding votes out of nowhere” and offered conspiracy theories suggesting some kind of attempt by Democrats to steal the Senate seat from Scott.
Andrew Pollack, who became a prominent supporter of Scott and DeSantis after his daughter, Meadow, was killed in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, wrote on Twitter that “BRENDA SNIPES DESERVES TO BE IN PRISON. She does not deserve to be recounting votes in Broward County.”
In 2018, the fact-checking organization Politifact concluded Trump and Scott made their accusations of fraud “without any evidence,” concluding that there “have clearly been problems in Broward, [but] that’s not the same as actual fraud.”
After Scott’s attorneys alleged election fraud, Circuit Judge Jack Tuter admonished them, telling them to back up their claims instead of simply leveling allegations.
Bellis said conspiracy theories flourished because vote counting that year was slow and people don’t know the lengthy processes spelled out in state and federal laws that are in place that include safeguards against fraud.
County Auditor Robert “Bob” Melton wrote to county commissioners in 2020 that “the November 2018 election was not efficiently and effectively conducted.”
One major issue, which was widely reported as the recount went on, was that 2,335 ballots went missing. As ballot pages that needed to be recounted for the close statewide races were separated from pages that didn’t need to be counted again, some pages with statewide races went into the wrong box.
That produced a discrepancy between the number of votes tallied immediately after the election and sent to the state on Nov. 10, 2018, versus the totals the machine recount produced on Nov. 17.
The first result showed more than the machine recount.
Another major Broward issue worked in Scott’s favor. The ballot’s design in Broward, the most Democratic county in the state, placed federal races in the lower left-hand corner of the ballot, underneath ballot instructions in English, Spanish and Creole.
Tucked away in the bottom left, many people apparently missed the race — especially in areas in which there wasn’t a hot race for U.S. House of Representatives.
A 2019 study by the MIT Election Data and Science Lab found the design could have cost then-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., 9,658 votes in the U.S. Senate race against Scott.
Nelson, who was seeking re-election, ended up losing the ultra-close race to Republican Scott by 10,033 votes out of 4.19 million cast — a difference of 0.2%.
If the bad ballot design hadn’t cost Nelson those thousands of votes in Broward, Scott still would have been the winner by a razor-thin margin — and the contentious contest would have certainly been plagued with even more court battles, counting controversies and conspiracy theories.
State election law was subsequently changed to prohibit that style of ballot design.
Snipes, a retired educator, got the elections job in 2003 when then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended the previous supervisor, Miriam Oliphant. Snipes was elected to full terms in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
In late November 2018, once he was officially the winner of the Senate election and while still governor, Scott suspended Snipes, citing missed deadlines, lost ballots and a lack of information.
Snipes had already submitted a resignation, 12 days earlier, effective Jan. 4.
After the suspension, she withdrew her resignation and challenged the governor’s action in court.
When DeSantis took office in January 2019, he and Snipes reached an agreement in which he withdrew the suspension and she resigned.