As elections sites across Florida began machine recounts of millions of ballots Sunday morning, Broward County did so without at least two Republican observers authorized to enter the building by the Matt Caldwell campaign. Caldwell is the Republican nominee for Agriculture Commissioner. On election night, with only three Broward County precincts not reporting vote totals, he led Democrat Nikki Fried by 40,000 votes. Those outstanding precincts contained less than 33,000 registered voters. More than 80,000 ballots were added by Broward County after Election Day.
Republican state committeewoman Michele Merrell and Collin Thompson say they waited patiently outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office for several hours trying to gain access as observers for Caldwell, who now trails Fried by just 5,326 votes. Merrell says she and Thompson managed to gain entry to an outer area several times but were repeatedly turned away by SOE staffers who offered a range of reasons for why they couldn’t be let in.
On her fourth try, Merrell says she passed through three security checkpoints before another Broward SOE staffer stopped her and ordered her out of the building based on his belief that she was a “paid political protester” who had arrived from out of town at the behest of President Trump.
Merrell lives and votes in Broward County.
Fred Bellis, Operations Supervisor for Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes, says he was unaware of the issue until he learned about it from The Capitolist and said he would work to rectify the problem.
But after having been on site since 9 a.m. trying to gain access, Merrell says she had a 4pm appointment and needed to be elsewhere on Sunday evening.
“It’s just ridiculous that I am being unfairly punished for being a Republican. I witnessed first hand Democrats walk into the Broward SOE with unfettered access, yet I wasn’t able to,” Merrell said. “I followed the rules and procedures. I was polite and respectful. I was on the pre-approved list from the State SOE to be in there, and yet Brenda Snipes gets to play by her own rules. This is not how a democracy is supposed to work.”
At around 3:40pm, Thompson says he made contact with Bellis, who made arrangements for him him into the building.