When Broward County posted election results online before the polls closed Tuesday night, it was the election night screw-up seen around Florida. It is a felony to release results while voters are still casting ballots. Within a couple of hours, a vendor took full responsibility, but a chain of events was already in motion: On Tuesday night, the state elections chief, Ken Detzner, criticized the slip-up as “unacceptable” and called for an investigation — prompting the Broward state attorney to launch a review Wednesday. As the drama was unfolding in a warehouse at the Lauderhill Mall where Broward tabulates results, Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes coasted to a landslide victory over her Democratic primary opponent and deferred to the vendor to explain what went down. Despite the election website problems, experts say it’s unlikely that anyone will get charged with a crime.
State law says that “any supervisor of elections, deputy supervisor of elections, canvassing board member, election board member, or election employee who releases the results of any election prior to the closing of the polls in that county on election day commits a felony of the third degree.”
But J.C. Planas, an election lawyer and professor at St. Thomas University, said the purpose of the statute is to prevent elections officials from releasing information in a way that could impact turnout. On Tuesday in Broward, results based on absentee ballots and early voting were posted around 6:40 p.m., with 20 minutes to spare before polls closed on a rainy election day where the county’s turnout was an abysmal 16.5 percent.
“It smells of an embarrassing sloppy error,” Planas said. “Nothing smells like nefarious intent.”