In the lawsuit against Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, neither side has a strong case. The plaintiffs’ case, though, is weaker.
The American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), a conservative group formed as a counterweight to the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union, alleges that Snipes has failed to maintain accurate voter rolls as required under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. When presented with inaccuracies, the ACRU claims, Snipes has not acted.
Snipes presents an inviting target. As the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board noted last year when endorsing her opponent in the Democratic primary, she has become “disconnected” from the daily work of the office after 13 years. During testimony in the federal trial that ended nearly two weeks ago, some of her answers on how her office checks the rolls were vague.
In an interview, Snipes and her attorney, Burnadette Norris-Weeks, basically blamed any problems on the state. Supervisors must follow state rules about when to purge people from the rolls. “Florida has a great law,” Norris-Weeks said, “and the office is going according to the law.”
Still, Snipes could be more proactive and set higher standards for how her office works. Palm Beach County’s supervisor, Susan Bucher, recently imposed new rules to guard against absentee ballot abuse, for example. Bucher did so after witnessing suspicious behavior in the last election, issues not adequately anticipated or addressed in state law.
If Snipes is too passive, however, the ACRU is too aggressive — and too political.
It is no coincidence that this Republican group filed its lawsuit in Broward, which has more registered Democrats than any other Florida county. People involved directly and indirectly are partisans who perpetuate myths about voter fraud, a strategy designed to purge voters rather than increase turnout.
J. Christian Adams, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, is president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. He’s the author of a book called “Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department.” In 2014, he wrote a blog post accusing then-Attorney General Eric Holder of “facilitating voter fraud.”
A director of the same foundation is Hans von Spakovsky. Like Adams, he worked in the under President George W. Bush.
During that time, von Spakovsky twice overruled career prosecutors who concluded that election law changes in Texas and Georgia discriminated against African-American and Hispanic voters, who tend to vote Democratic. He also co-wrote the book, “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk.”
Yet the Bush Justice Department found virtually no evidence of voter fraud nationwide. The investigation covered five years. Bush asked for it after the presidential recount of 2000.
Now Adams and von Spakovsky are serving on President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity. Trump formed the panel after making the false claim that 3 million to 5 million ballots cast by illegal immigrants cost him the popular vote.
Another commission member, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, claimed that “more than a million noncitizens may have voted in November.” Adams, Blackwell and von Spakovsky serve on ACRU’s policy board.
For all their rhetoric, the plaintiffs presented no evidence of voter fraud in Broward County. There was testimony about rolls that seemed inflated and dead people on the rolls, but Broward is a large, transient county. In one two-year cycle, roughly 200,000 people were purged in the normal course of business.
We have seen in Florida what can happen with politically motivated purges. Gov. Rick Scott tried one in 2012. Of the 2,700 names identified statewide, almost 90 percent were African-American and Hispanic. Five hundred were citizens. They included military veterans.
If the ACRU had wanted to take a stand for election integrity, the group could have sued the state over Florida’s lax rules for absentee ballots. The Palm Beach Post recently reported how two Palm Beach County candidates exploited those loopholes last year. Documented problems with absentee ballots in Florida go back 20 years.
By Sept. 15, Snipes and the ACRU must give U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom memorandums stating how they believe the judge should rule. We hope that Bloom confines her ruling to recommendations on how Snipes could improve maintenance of the voter rolls.
Currently, the office runs the list against a state database every two years. Perhaps the office could do that more often. Voters who don’t show up must stay on the rolls for two election cycles, but the office could send out postcards before then to see if people have moved. Snipes could establish a stronger chain of command that makes list maintenance a higher priority.
Though there’s no sign of fraud, there’s also no reason for a 130-year-old voter to be on the rolls. This lawsuit may be partisan, but election integrity is a bipartisan issue.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Gary Stein and Editor-in-Chief .