On Thursday, as a new batch of Broward County ballots was counted, the margins grew tighter in several key Florida races.
With a tiny difference between the number of votes cast for Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, the Senate race is headed to a manual recount. The gubernatorial race pitting Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum against Congressman Ron DeSantis also appears headed for a machine recount. The Broward ballots even helped Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for state agricultural commissioner, pull ahead of Republican challenger Matt Caldwell by just 575 votes, so that race too is headed for a recount.
Those slim margins illustrate the importance of every single vote — but at least one overseas voter from Broward says the county elections office botched her ballot, raising questions about whether it was counted at all. Jennifer Rauch, a 34-year-old Sunrise native who has lived in Australia for almost five years, contends the Broward County Supervisor of Elections sent her an emailed ballot that omitted a candidate’s name and could not be printed on a standard piece of paper in her country. That mistake is especially notable in Broward, the county responsible for the infamous “hanging chads” debacle in 2000 and the illegal destruction of ballots in 2016.
“Despite my efforts to create clarification around what was expected of me to vote by mail, we may not know that my vote has been counted until after the election,” Rauch told New Times last week. “If my vote is not counted, it would be by no fault of my own, particularly because I followed the very vague directions given to me by the Broward County Supervisor of Elections prior to my deadline of mailing my overseas ballot through my consulate.”
Because Rauch is a U.S. citizen and over the age of 18, she’s eligible by law to vote absentee for candidates in primary and general elections. After watching the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court scandal unfold, she was eager to vote in the midterms.
“Once that all sort of finished, it was like, OK, I gotta vote. No question about it; I need to make my voice heard,” she says.
This year, Rauch’s ballot showed up in an email announcing a “new feature” for accessing her ballot. It was a link to a site that displayed her ballot in the exact format it would appear on paper. The email said to complete it online, print it, and either fax or mail it to Broward.
Rauch says the first sign of trouble came almost as soon as she followed the link. In the race for state House District 98, the Democratic candidate’s name was blocked out, making it look as if the Republican was the only choice. Knowing that Broward is a blue county, Rauch says she was taken aback. It was only when she left that item blank that an error message popped up and Democrat Michael Gottlieb’s name appeared.
A screenshot from Jennifer Rauch’s computer shows her emailed ballot, which at first omitted the name of her Democratic state rep, Michael Gottlieb.
Screenshot by Jennifer Rauch
Even though she figured it out, Rauch says she didn’t exactly feel relieved. “How many overseas voters are not going to vote for the candidate that they want just because they don’t realize he’s running?” she asks.
Then Rauch tried to print the ballot. But it was so large it wouldn’t fit on a sheet of printer paper. She emailed the Broward County Supervisor of Elections seeking help but was told only that “regular printer paper should be fine.” Her second email pointed out that Australia’s standard paper size differed from that of the United States and asked whether her vote would be counted if she shrank the ballot. She received no response.
Ultimately, worried that time was running out, she went to a printing store and asked employees for help. They cut off the sides of the ballot — where dotted lines appear — and printed it out.
“The person was very helpful but was also very much like, ‘How is this allowed?'” Rauch says. “We’re about to crop an official ballot.”
Feeling less than confident about her vote even getting counted, she submitted the ballot to the American consulate.
In a brief call with New Times, Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes downplayed concerns about the issues Rauch raised. Snipes says the county has been sending overseas ballots by email since the early 2000s — even though the email sent to Rauch called it a new feature.
For the midterm elections, Broward County sent 3,245 vote-by-mail ballots to overseas and out-of-state military voters such as Rauch. Even if only a fraction of them had the problems experienced by Rauch, their votes could change the reported Election Day results.
Rauch says the experience made her question the integrity of the voting process in Broward.
“It does not give me confidence,” she says. “They’re just winging it at this point.”