Florida election finally ends, but criticism of its oversight does not

LAUDERHILL, Fla. — The Republican candidate for commissioner of agriculture in Florida conceded his loss Monday — sort of.

Matt Caldwell, a Republican, lost the election by less than 7,000 votes. He was so stung by the series of blunders by Democrats elected to run the elections offices in two south Florida counties that he confessed that he remained unconvinced of the results.

“Unfortunately, as a result of the abject failures in Broward and Palm Beach, it has become clear that we may never gain an understanding of what transpired in the hours and days after polls closed,” he said in a statement.

His announcement came the morning after the embattled elections supervisor in Broward County, Brenda Snipes, told Gov. Rick Scott that she would step down from her post Jan. 4, a decision that came in the wake of multiple ballot mishaps that plagued Broward County after the Nov. 6 election.

Snipes’ resignation and Caldwell’s hesitant concession Monday highlighted the pitfalls of Florida’s fragmented election system that came painfully to light over the past week, a system made up of 67 counties with different equipment run by officials with highly varying levels of expertise — who almost all had to run for office themselves.

The embattled and weary Snipes on Monday gave her first interview since her resignation, expressing surprise at the harsh allegations against her and reflecting on a career that she said “was blown up in a spectacle.” Looking exhausted and sounding annoyed, Snipes, 75, said she always knew this election would be her last.

“I have been kind of amazed at myself: I feel calm,” said Snipes, an elected Democrat who was initially appointed to the office by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003. “I don’t feel mind-boggled. I am mind-boggled by all the folks who came in here with all the commentary who didn’t know me from a bag of dirt out there. It’s a representation of the kind of climate that we live in.”

The problems in Broward County began immediately after Election Day, when her office provided fuzzy details about the number of votes cast in various categories. It then produced unexplained new votes in the days after the election — a situation that prompted Republicans to file a lawsuit demanding access to the county’s voting records, which they easily won.

Just after Election Day, a small stack of rejected ballots was inadvertently commingled with valid ones — and all were counted.

Then on Thursday, Snipes’ office failed by two minutes to meet the state’s deadline to submit results of a machine recount and blamed unfamiliarity with the state’s website for the error.

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