The election supervisor in Florida’s second-most populous county broke the law by destroying ballots cast in last year’s congressional primary involving Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, according to election-law experts across the political spectrum. The congresswoman’s opponent has sued to get access to the ballots. The case — one of three ongoing independent lawsuits plaguing Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes’ troubled office — stems from a June lawsuit filed in circuit court by Democrat Tim Canova. He had wanted to inspect the optical-scan ballots cast in his Aug. 30 primary race against Wasserman Schultz because he had concerns about the integrity of the elections office. Under longstanding federal law, ballots cast in a congressional race aren’t supposed to be destroyed until 22 months after the election. And under state law, a public record sought in a court case is not supposed to be destroyed without a judge’s order.
Snipes’ office, however, destroyed the paper ballots in question in October — in the middle of Canova’s lawsuit — but says it’s lawful because the office made high-quality electronic copies. Canova’s legal team found out after the fact last month.
“The documents were not destroyed because they were maintained in an electronic format,” Snipes’ attorney, Burnadette Norris-Weeks, told POLITICO. “They have the documents. … They did a two-day inspection of the ballots.”
But Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, and his attorney say they wanted originals to make sure they weren’t tampered with. Digital copies can be altered, they said.
Seven election-law lawyers interviewed by POLITICO do not share Snipes’ attorney’s interpretation of the statute. Nor does the Department of Justice’s voting division, which is in charge of enforcing the federal law.