Practice makes Perfect

The mid-term elections of Trump’s presidency were held on the 6th of November 2018, amid high expectations of a so-called “blue wave” of Democrat victories. All House of Representatives seats were on the line, but although Democrats won control of the House, they made little impact in the Senate, which remained under Republican control.

Florida was particularly sensitive about election processes because the result of the 2000 Presidential election, which hinged on the result in Florida, was effectively settled in the Supreme Court of the US. Broward County has 1.2 million voters, a similar number to Miami-Dade county. Unlike Miami-Dade, however, Broward officials did not expect to complete the count by the deadline for sending preliminary totals to the State.

Rick Scott, the retiring Governor of Florida, was standing for the Senate against the incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. On Friday the 9th, Nelson filed a lawsuit asking that the deadline be extended past noon Saturday. Nelson’s contention was that Broward officials would need more than another day and half to complete the count. The GOP response was that a difference in votes of less than half a percent would trigger an mandatory machine recount in any event. Scott’s campaign said in a press release that, “They aim to disenfranchise law abiding Florida voters by producing ballots out of thin air until they have enough to win.”

Also on the Friday, Trump tweeted sarcastically,
You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia – but the Election was on Tuesday? Let’s blame the Russians and demand and immediate apology from President Putin!

The deadline for the finalised vote tally was eight days after the preliminary; Sunday 18th at noon. By Saturday 17th a machine recount had been completed, with 2,040 fewer votes being tabulated. The Supervisor of Elections, Brenda Snipes, was sure of one thing. “The ballots are in this building.”

Broward County had also drawn attention to itself because it recorded nearly 25,000 more votes for Governor than for the Senate race. However, the County designed its own ballots, and there was criticism that the layout was confusing, perhaps accounting for much of the discrepancy.

The problems in Broward could not readily be ignored. The County Auditor, Bob Melton, was given the job of conducting an audit of the election. His draft report was given to the County in April 2020, a year and a half after the election. The draft was not well received, and the Auditor withdrew it for “further review for clarification.” The political leadership of the County were no doubt unhappy with the bottom line of the audit. “Based on the totality of these issues, we are unable to provide assurance over the accuracy of the November 2018 election results as reported.”

Among the issues outlined by Melton were:

Voter turnout in Broward was 715,519, of which 121,599 (17%) were mail ballots. Of these, 69,902 (58%) remained to be counted at close of polls on Tuesday the 6th of November. In Florida, mail votes can be opened and scanned before election day, with the results “sealed” in tabulation equipment until close of polls. Over 18,000 mail ballots arrived on election day, but there were still nearly 50,000 un-tabulated ballots in officials’ hands before the polls.

Staff in some precincts went home on election night without transmitting results from tabulating machines. Even after that was resolved, 6,500 votes were subsequently transmitted, including 1,100 votes that staff could not explain.

Snipes’ office ordered 47,000 more ballots than it reported sending to precincts; neither did if have a process to confirm that nearly 650,000 unused ballots were received back safely. 

2,335 ballots misplaced. These include the “lost in the building” ballots.

293 of 577 precincts – over half – reported a combined total of 885 more ballots than voters. As various reports noted, this is a minuscule fraction of the total vote. The auditors nonetheless wrote that this “compromises voter confidence.” There is no mention of whether any of the other precincts reported fewer ballots than voters.

Much of this sounds familiar. There are many lessons here for the professional campaign advisor. One of the most important is that it took eighteen months to audit the election in a single, though populous, county. Given that the time frame for resolving issues in a Presidential election is a mere two months, what lessons might such an advisor take?

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