The Florida GOP Has Now Tried to Fire Two Elections Chiefs in Democratic Counties

The Florida GOP Has Now Tried to Fire Two Elections Chiefs in Democratic Counties
Associated Press via YouTube

This past November, Florida Republicans, conservative TV pundits, and President Donald Trump fabricated claims of "election-rigging" by two Florida elections supervisors in two of the state's most heavily Democratic counties.

Now those same Republicans have attempted to fire both of those elections chiefs. The Florida Democratic Party has already blasted Gov. Rick DeSantis' latest move as a "politically motivated power grab" and an attempt to "consolidate" control of elections across the state.

DeSantis this afternoon suspended Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher after her office was unable to finish its 2018 Senate and gubernatorial recounts in a timely fashion. Bucher, notably, said the failure was because her office lacked proper state funding and was stuck with slow-moving, outdated machines. DeSantis said today he is replacing Bucher, a Democrat, with Wendy Link, a Republican real-estate lawyer.
DeSantis' move comes after the state's former governor — and newly minted senator — Rick Scott attempted to fire Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes. Notably, Snipes had already tendered her resignation before Scott even made that move. Instead, Scott simply wanted to impose his will before leaving office. Snipes responded by digging her heels in and changing her mind about resigning. DeSantis today said he was reversing Scott's decision and simply letting Snipes walk away.

Scott basically accused Snipes of personally trying to "steal" his Senate election last year. (Never mind the fact that he wound up beating incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson anyway.) The then-governor repeatedly hopped on Fox News to falsely claim that "left-wing activists in Broward County have been coming up with more and more ballots out of nowhere" during the recount and that he would "not sit idly by while unethical liberals try and steal this election from the great people of Florida." This was Scott's third statewide election — he clearly understood it usually takes days, if not weeks, for county elections boards to finish counting ballots. He appeared to be transparently trying to stop the recount for fear he'd lose.

Instead, he helped gin up the Republican base, which since November has been calling for the heads of Snipes and Bucher. (A mix of conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, and other Republicans gathered outside Broward's elections office for anti-Snipes protests during the recount. Far-right commentators online also doxxed Snipes and Bucher by posting their personal addresses and phone numbers online.)

This has given the Florida GOP a convenient excuse to fire the two elections chiefs in two of the state's bluest counties — Broward and Palm Beach — and install their own handpicked lackeys.

Scott in December replaced Snipes with one of his close allies — Pete Antonacci, Scott's former personal lawyer. Antonacci has a long history of doing Scott's dirty work: Despite the fact that Antonacci has zero background in environmentalism, Scott appointed him to run the South Florida Water Management District, the body effectively in charge of Everglades restoration. Antonacci proceeded to do a terrible job and faced accusations he was working to protect the interests of Big Sugar companies. (DeSantis’s move rescinding Scott’s order also likely means that Antonacci’s appointment has been voided as well — DeSantis has not yet said if he’ll let Antonacci remain.)
No one is arguing that Bucher or Snipes was entirely competent — in fact, there's ample evidence that Broward's Snipes was bad at her job and needed to leave. But during a hotly contested recount last year, Republicans fabricated claims that Snipes and Bucher were "rigging" their respective recounts. Bucher's firing is significantly more suspect than Snipes'. Though Snipes made a series of baffling and clearly incompetent decisions during the recount, Bucher's office seemingly struggled only because of the outdated machinery that poll workers were using. At one point last year, Bucher was rebuked by a judge after her office continued to blow recount deadlines.
Importantly, neither Scott nor DeSantis have attempted to take any action against Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Anderson, who admitted to accepting a combined 158 votes by both email and fax last year in blatant violation of state law. (Email and fax votes are significantly harder to verify and can more easily be tampered with.) Bay County is, of course, a Republican stronghold.

At the moment, it's unclear whether Bucher will fight the move, but it sure appears that way. In the meantime, Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo — who herself was possibly implicated in a weird elections scheme last November that had nothing to do with Snipes or Bucher — has released a statement blasting DeSantis' move as a power grab.

"In the United States, our elections are sacred and our elections supervisors are democratically elected," Rizzo wrote in a media release. "The Governor's recent power grab — removing Democrats from elected positions, including Susan Bucher — should be seen for what it is: A gross overreach and a politically motivated move to consolidate power and obstruct the will of the people."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.