How Bad Ballot Design Likely Killed Bill Nelson’s Senate Career

If you’re still mad at Florida for denying Vice Pres. Al Gore the presidency in 2000, you’re probably not any happier with us for denying the Senate another Democrat, in the form of Bill Nelson.

There’s a tragically simple explanation for why the Senate vote went off the rails in the county where Fort Lauderdale is:

Bad ballot design. Like, spectacularly bad design.

In civilized counties like mine, here’s how the ballot looked:

As you can see, the instructions go across all three columns and are clearly set apart from the selections that follow.

And here’s what voters in Broward County saw:*

The race between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott was tucked under a long column of instructions on the left. It looked to a large enough number of voters like part of the instructions, with the “real” voting beginning in the center column.

If you doubt that could happen, know that Broward was the only county to print its ballot this way. And the undercount (a term for how many people showed up to vote but for whatever reason left one or more contests blank) in the Senate race in Broward was the highest in the state — 3.7 percent to be exact. That translates in the densely populated South Florida to about 25,000 people.

Politico’s reporters Matt Dixon, Marc Caputo, and Isabel Dobrin publish an email newsletter about Florida. Here’s what they said about how bad the Broward County mess was:

If we assume Broward would vote like demographically/geographically/politically similar Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, then Broward Election Supervisor Brenda Snipes’ bad ballot may have killed Sen. Nelson’s political career. In Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, an average of 0.34 percent more ballots were cast for Senate than governor. If we apply that percentage increase to Broward’s governor’s race (709,179 votes), then the Senate race would have had 711,610 votes (instead of 683,636). And if that happened, then Nelson would have netted 10,674 more votes than Scott. Nelson therefore would have won Florida by 641 votes.

Here’s a video that explains more about the bad ballot design in this race and what it likely meant.

Was this the only factor in Nelson’s loss? Not by a long shot, starting with the candidate’s own campaign, a lackluster affair until after the primary produced Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who ran for governor, as a fellow statewide candidate for Nelson to join on the campaign trail. Gillum’s enthusiastic crowds seemed to pump up the staid Nelson.

Not to be underestimated also was the impact of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s interference with the statewide recount process. Scott, of course, was Nelson’s opponent in the race.

Yet there is no way around the effect upon Nelson’s loss by thousands of people skipping the vote in the Senate race in Broward County. And no amount of recouting in the county could make up for it.

If you, like so many both in and out of Florida, want Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes fired over this, you’re too late. She’s already quit.

Image was shared online by consultant Matthew Isbell.


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