DeSantis Has Two Years to Fix Florida Voting

President Trump has made his 2020 Florida playbook clear: If a close race happens with a tight margin there, he will paralyze the nation with claims of fraud and a stolen election. In short, Republican officials in Florida have two years to clean up this mess.

Ron DeSantis, the governor-elect, has inherited a long-standing problem that was left to fester by the Sunshine State’s next junior senator. Rick Scott, completing two terms as governor, failed to tighten loose screws in the election machinery but has been crying foul in the ongoing recount he is likely to prevail in against current Sen. Bill Nelson. Trump has been all too eager to jump in with the usual falsehoods and baseless accusations that undermine the credibility of the democracy he is supposed to protect.

“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged,” Trump tweeted. “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”

He told the on Wednesday that people leave polling places and change their hats and shirts in their cars and go back in and vote again. Yes, he did. Of course, Florida’s recount is triggered by law when the margin is narrow, and overseas ballots from members of the military aren’t due until this Friday. No fraud, despite statements by Scott and Trump, has been identified. Yet Trump has essentially said the count should be stopped. Scott accused Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes of “rampant fraud” and Nelson of “clearly trying to commit fraud,” without proof of either.

DeSantis has, to his credit, remained conspicuously silent throughout.  On Monday a federal judge took the rare step of scolding the complicit parties, warning they should “ramp down the rhetoric” and report any fraud to law enforcement. No such accounts have been reported, of course. “We need to be careful what we say,” Judge Jack Tuter said.

In addition to his irresponsible rhetoric, Scott is accountable for a dysfunctional system he could have reformed. Snipes has violated public records law, and the county’s ballot was so badly designed it appears to be intentionally confusing. In Palm Beach County, the machines are so old they can only count one race at a time. Since Election Day, Snipes has failed to fulfill her responsibility by law to tally votes every 45 minutes. In the past she stands accused of not counting 1,000 ballots in the 2012 election, destroying ballots too soon after the 2016 election, using some ballots that left off an amendment regarding medical marijuana in 2016, failing to deliver approximately 58,000 ballots to voters in 2004, and posting results in the 2016 primary on the government website before the polls closed.

If, as Sen. Marco Rubio said, Snipes runs “not just the most troubled elections office in the state,” but “the most troubled elections office in the nation,” why did Scott let this happen?

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, issuing one of many related rulings, said Thursday the debacle has made Florida “the laughingstock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this.” Scott claims that as governor he was constrained from removing Snipes. But she was appointed in 2003 by former Gov. Jeb Bush to replace another supervisor (also a Democrat) he accused of “incompetence,” as well as “misfeasance”; though the position is an elected one — Snipes has passed muster with voters four times since 2004 — it was nonetheless within Scott’s power to replace her as well.  He probably, as a candidate for Senate, wanted to avoid any potential political backlash from doing so, but perhaps he should have done a better job as governor before trying to become senator.

Trump, as his record shows, doesn’t even need irregularities or someone as problematic as Snipes to throw conspiracy theories and false charges around. His oft-repeated insistence that Hillary Clinton received 3 million to 5 million illegal votes in the 2016 presidential election was never backed up by his own failed election fraud commission.  Last week he created fictional ballot box corruption in Arizona that no one in either party had alleged, tweeting: “Just out – in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH. Electoral corruption – Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!” This is why Democrats mirroring Trump with the same reckless accusations are doing just as much damage to democracy as he is. Clinton just said that Stacey Abrams would have won the Georgia gubernatorial race if it was a “fair election,” while Sen. Sherrod Brown said she didn’t lose the election, Republicans “stole it.”  

There are scores of Republicans in official Washington who fear Trump may not concede a lost election in two years without claiming it was rigged. Both parties must respect the process, and the outcome, if they expect voters to.

DeSantis is an ambitious man. After serving a few terms in the House he ran for Senate, came back to the House, then got himself on Fox News Channel frequently enough to catch the eye of President Trump. Winning his backing catapulted DeSantis from far behind in the primary to victory over Adam Putnam, a longtime office holder who was positioned for the governorship but was derailed by the Trump endorsement. DeSantis owes the president, who won’t be shy about reminding him of this. Trump told the this week: “I endorsed DeSantis. I endorsed DeSantis and he won by 20 points. Okay, it wasn’t even a race. And his opponent, who I spoke to afterward because he is a nice guy, he said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’ He said, ‘You endorsed him, the race was over.’”

If DeSantis wants to be re-elected as governor in 2022, he should rehabilitate the state’s balloting process and make it one he can be proud of two years from now. He should have no one like Snipes to blame on November 3, 2020.  Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who believes Democrats will commit fraud to stop Trump’s re-election, wrote, “It is time for the Department of Justice to step in and do a top-to-bottom investigation regarding why these issues still persist.” That sounds like a great idea, Governor-Elect.

DeSantis must do the right thing — not for Trump, but for Florida and the nation.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist.