MIAMI — Gov. Rick Scott’s office rapped Broward County’s election supervisor for giving an “insufficient response” to an official inquiry concerning her apparently “unacceptable” decision to destroy a congressional race’s paper ballots that were the subject of litigation.
The ballots in question had been cast in the 2016 South Florida Democratic primary between Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and challenger Tim Canova, who later asked to inspect the paper trail because he was concerned about election integrity.
Canova finally filed suit against Broward County’s election supervisor, Brenda Snipes, when he felt his public request to inspect a select number of ballots was not being honored in timely fashion. In the middle of the suit, POLITICO first reported, Snipes’ office destroyed the paper ballots but said it made electronic copies of them.
Regardless of the electronic copies, the destruction of the paper ballots themselves is not legal, election law experts say, citing a federal law that says election records are supposed to be preserved for 22 months after a federal election. Under state law, a public record that’s the subject of litigation isn’t supposed to be destroyed without a judge’s order.
Snipes’ attorney, Burnadette Norris-Weeks, told POLITICO previously that the ballot destruction was legal because “they were maintained in an electronic format.”
But Ken Detzner, the Florida secretary of state appointed by Scott, said in a Dec. 20 letter to Snipes that he was “following [the Canova case] with particular interest and concern” and requested she provide by Jan. 3 “an explanation of the procedures, events, legal basis, and reasoning for their disposition in the manner taken. Additionally, please provide copies of any emails, correspondence or documents regarding the disposition of these ballots. This would include any written or electronic versions of these documents.”
Nine days later, however, Snipes said in a reply letter that she wanted a 60-day extension of the deadline "because this issue is now in a full litigation process."
“I am making this request so as not to interfere with the legal proceedings,” Snipes wrote. “I can be available for a phone conference anytime during the requested extension period of time.”
Asked for comment, Scott’s office said Snipes’ reply wasn’t good enough.
“She provided an insufficient response,” McKinley Lewis, Scott’s deputy communications director, said in a statement to POLITICO. “The bottom line is it appears her office destroyed ballots — which is unacceptable. We will continue to push for answers.”
Canova’s attorney has filed a motion for sanctions due to the “spoliation” of evidence.