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Did Broward County's ballot design cost Bill Nelson re-election?

Bad ballot design in South Florida familiar issue for Democrats

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In the 2000 recount and the 2018 election, bad ballot design in South Florida possibly contributed to deciding who won in crucial, tight national races.

In each election, a Democratic Supervisor of Elections presided over the questionably designed ballots that might have cost Democratic candidates their elections.

In 2000, the infamous butterfly ballot had nearly 4,000 people in Palm Beach voting for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore. Gore lost by 537 votes. 

This year, Broward County put the U.S. Senate race at the bottom of a long first column following a list of ballot instructions. The U.S. Senate undervote in Broward was between 3.5 percent and 4 percent -- nearly four times higher than the statewide average of 1 percent.

“If we were to look at how those undervotes would have broken down partisan-wise in Broward County, that would have netted Nelson anywhere from 9,000 to 11,000 votes,” data consultant Matt Isbell said. “Which theoretically, I mean, he lost by about 10,000. That could have made the difference up.”

Broward Elections Supervisor Dr. Brenda Snipes resigned, effective Jan. 4.

Republican Party of Florida Attorney Pete Dunbar laid the blame on the local Democratic Party and Sen. Bill Nelson’s campaign.

“Everybody had the opportunity to look at that ballot ahead of time,” Dunbar said. “That can be considered a bit of a careless oversight on the part of the Democrats.”

While it’s too late for Nelson now, count on ballot design being on campaign checklists going forward.

“One of the things we all learned after 2000 is that we all have to be more engaged in the ballot design process,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale. "This is a public process.”

One of the infamous “butterfly” ballot machines was given to the Florida state museum in 2001.