Florida Elections Supervisor Fights for Her Job

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) – An elections supervisor suspended by Florida Governor Rick Scott over missteps during the midterms filed a federal lawsuit seeking to reclaim her job.

Brenda Snipes, the former supervisor of elections for Broward County, claims in the complaint filed Monday in Tallahassee federal court that the suspension violated her due process rights. She seeks an injunction returning her to the position, along with back pay, and is represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks.

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes explains to the canvassing board a discrepancy in vote counts in Lauderhill, Fla., on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Snipes came under fire after Election Day for delays in counting votes and lack of transparency in the hotly contested elections for U.S. Senate, governor and agricultural commissioner.

Scott, a Republican who ended up winning his Senate race, successfully sued Snipes to gain access to the county’s ballots during the recount process. In the days after the election, Scott alleged election fraud without offering proof. An official investigation never took place. 

In light of the harsh criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, Snipes announced on Nov. 18 she would resign her position in January. But Scott issued an executive order on Nov. 30 suspending her for “for misfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty.”

“After a series of inexcusable actions, it’s clear that there needs to be an immediate change in Broward County and taxpayers should no longer be burdened by paying a salary for a supervisor of elections who has already announced resignation,” Governor Scott said in a statement at the time.

He appointed Peter Antonacci, the head of the state’s economic development agency and former counsel for the governor’s office, to replace Snipes until county voters choose a new supervisor in 2020. Snipes countered by rescinding her resignation.

In Monday’s 27-page lawsuit, Snipes claims the governor is to blame for many of the delays during the recount process by filing multiple lawsuits and refusing to provide help to her office despite having secretary of state staff there to monitor Snipes.

“Governor Scott, and others working on his behalf, tried in every way to damage Snipes’ reputation and inject doubt into the minds of Broward voters that the Broward County elections process was being conducted properly,” the complaint states.

Snipes also contends the Florida Senate violated her due process rights by not scheduling a formal hearing. Florida law calls for a Senate review of any suspension by the governor.

In a Dec. 13 memo to Scott, Senate President Bill Galvano said he would not schedule a hearing because Snipes’ “unconditional” resignation would take effect before the Senate convenes next year.

“The decision merely reflects that no timely action can be taken by the Senate,” he wrote. “Nothing precludes Dr. Snipes from seeking a judicial determination of any rights she may have related to the office of Broward County supervisor of elections.”

Scott’s office criticized Snipes’ lawsuit in an email to Courthouse News.

“This lawsuit is a desperate move from someone who has already officially submitted her resignation,” said John Tupps, the governor’s communication director. “This is simply an attempt by Ms.Snipes to rewrite the history of her failed leadership.”

Snipes, who took over as supervisor of elections in 2003 after her predecessor was removed for mismanagement, has also faced criticism in past elections.

In 2016, her staff sent out incomplete mail-in ballots. Lawsuits filed after that election also accused the office of opening mail-in ballots in private and illegally destroying ballots prematurely. In 2012, nearly 1,000 ballots were found uncounted in an elections department warehouse.

Snipes’ attorney, Norris-Weeks, characterized the governor’s suspension order as politically motivated.

“I believe that because Broward County is rich in Democratic voters, the governor saw this as an opportunity to make a political move that will set in place an agenda consistent with what we can expect with the 2020 elections,” she told Courthouse News by phone. “If you look at the pattern of activities that led up to this suspension, his intentions would be clear.”

The attorney conceded there were mistakes made during the recount, but pointed to problems with the state’s election process as a whole. The lawsuit adds context to some of the issues raised by Scott and the media, she said, including an affidavit by a vendor admitting to mistakenly releasing election results too early before the office completed counting all ballots.

Norris-Weeks said her client’s lawsuit seeks to overturn the suspension, but did not give further details about whether Snipes would still resign in January.

“She is more interested in clearing her good name,” Norris-Weeks said.

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