This column by Fred Lucas was published August 30, 2017 by The Daily Signal.
A veteran Democrat chief election official in Florida has conceded in court that noncitizens and felons possibly voted, in a case that could have national implications for how localities clean up voter rolls.
Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes is defending her office against a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Rights Union, a conservative legal group that contends there are more voters registered on Broward’s rolls than there are eligible voters in the county.
Those rolls are said to be inflated with not only noncitizens and felons, but also other ineligible people who have voted illegally.
On July 31, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper reported that, in court, “Snipes acknowledged the processes her office [has] been using aren’t perfect and that some noncitizens and felons have voted despite not being eligible — especially right before major elections, when groups are actively registering new voters.”
Burnadette Norris-Weeks, a lawyer for Snipes and Broward County, said the statement was “blown out of proportion” and was in response to a question, rather than a statement of definite voter fraud in the county.
“This wasn’t a suggestion there was rampant voter fraud in Broward County,” Norris-Weeks told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. She added that suggested improvements were “no admission of anything.”
“The supervisor will try anything to improve the system,” she said.
As of Aug. 30, just over half of the county’s 1.18 million registered voters, 595,688, are Democrats, according to county figures. About 21.6 percent of them, 254,966, are Republicans, while 326,405 are not affiliated with a political party, and 3,891 are described as “other.”
Snipes has been the county’s top election official since being appointed in mid-2003, and has won subsequent elections starting in November 2004.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom of the Southern District of Florida in Miami, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has not yet rendered a decision. A ruling will likely come in October, Norris-Weeks said.
“One of the things that is the beauty of this country is that anybody can sue for anything on any day,” Norris-Weeks said. “This is just a right-wing conservative organization trying to make sure it’s more difficult for people to vote.”
The case’s four-day trial this summer came at a time when voter fraud has become a national issue. President Donald Trump in May named a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to examine the issue nationally.
Broward County’s problems reportedly included voter registration lists with 130-year-old voters (or would-be voters, if they were living), felons, duplicate registrations, and commercial addresses listed as residential addresses.
“Snipes said she does not use Social Security death records to check up on extremely old voters — like age 130. She waits for a death certificate to fall in her lap. She won’t even look at local obituaries as a starting point,” Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case, told The Daily Signal in an email.
Foundation President J. Christian Adams, a member of Trump’s elections commission, is arguing in court on behalf of the American Civil Rights Union.
The Snipes testimony provided many disclosures about noncitizens voting, Churchwell noted.
“Of those outing themselves as noncitizens, she has seen records of ballots cast prior,” he said.
Still, the case is not a voter fraud case, but about whether Broward County manages voter records in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the “motor voter” law. That law allows people to register to vote when they apply for their driver’s license, but also requires local elections offices to keep their voter lists accurate.
Snipes reportedly said in court that her office was applying to be connected to Florida’s Driver and Vehicle Information Database.
“She made references to episodes involving voter registration drives before an election that turned in bad information. She gave the example of fictitious names on the stand,” Churchwell said. “She agreed that her office had registered ‘hundreds’ of voters claiming illegal commercial addresses as residential ones. They were usually rented mailboxes.”