What to Know
- In the 2018 governor's race in Florida, then-President Donald Trump endorsed Ron DeSantis in the Republican primary, which DeSantis won. In November 2018, DeSantis won the general election by about 0.4% as confirmed by a recount, which was required by state law because of the close margin.
- The Broward elections supervisor at the time, Brenda Snipes, had faced criticism for election errors and problems, but there was never evidence of criminal wrongdoing. She resigned after the 2018 election.
- The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated allegations of Democrats committing fraud in a few counties including Broward, but concluded in 2020 that they found "no evidence of fraudulent intent."
As he moves toward a comeback bid for the White House, former President Donald Trump lashed out at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, portraying him as disloyal for not stepping aside and forgoing his own presidential ambitions.
During a gubernatorial debate this past October, DeSantis would not say whether he will run for president. Trump may announce his campaign next week. As the rivalry has unfolded, on Truth Social this week, Trump suggested he had stopped a steal of DeSantis' 2018 gubernatorial election.
Trump said DeSantis came to him in "desperate shape" and "politically dead" in 2017. Trump said he rescued DeSantis by endorsing him in the Republican primary in which he beat Adam Putnam, the state's two-time agriculture commissioner. Months later, Trump said he delivered victory to DeSantis in his race against Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate.
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"I was all in for Ron, and he beat Gillum, but after the Race, when votes were being stolen by the corrupt Election process in Broward County, and Ron was going down ten thousand votes a day, along with now-Senator Rick Scott, I sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys, and the ballot theft immediately ended, just prior to them running out of the votes necessary to win. I stopped his Election from being stolen," Trump wrote Nov. 10 on Truth Social.
DeSantis narrowly beat Gillum, as confirmed by a recount, in 2018.
Could Trump have called someone at the Justice Department in November 2018 about the election in Broward? It's possible; we have no way to fact-check that part of his statement. But we can debunk Trump's assertion that votes were being "stolen" in Broward and that he stopped the steal.
NBC 6 has partnered with PolitiFact to closely examine claims made by lawmakers
Broward County Commissioner Steve Geller told PolitiFact he was at the Broward vote counting site on Election Day and visited a couple of times in the weeks following.
"Unless the federal agents were undercover and didn't identify themselves, there was nobody there saying, ‘Yes we are from the FBI or CIA or federal bureau of stopping the steal,’" Geller said.
"There was no ‘steal’ for him to have stopped," Geller said, referring to Trump.
A Broward County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson said the office had "no documentation of any federal law enforcement presence during the 2018 elections" and no evidence of corruption.
The FBI had no comment for us about Trump’s statement. We emailed Trump’s spokespeople to ask for his evidence to support his statement and got no reply.
Sarah Isgur, a former spokesperson for the Justice Department under Trump, tweeted Nov. 11 that the former president's claim about intervening in the 2018 election "never happened."
Governor’s race ended in recount and scrutiny of Broward
After Trump's endorsement, DeSantis clobbered Putnam, the presumptive GOP frontrunner and two-time agriculture commissioner, in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, but barely squeaked out a victory against Gillum, the Democratic nominee.
Days after the general election, GOP activists protested outside the Broward Supervisor of Elections’ vote counting center. (This fact-checker spent one day at the protests.)
The races for governor, U.S. Senate and state agricultural commissioner all fell into such close margins that they triggered recounts, as Florida law requires.
In the days following the election, Trump made allegations of voter fraud in Broward that were echoed by then-Gov. Rick Scott, who was declared the winner of his 2018 Senate race after a recount.
As Broward election officials continued to count ballots, Trump called the rising number of "found" votes the "Broward Effect" and tweeted that he would send lawyers to "expose the fraud!" But under state law, officials had until noon Saturday following the election to finish vote counting.
About two weeks after the 2018 election, a recount confirmed that DeSantis won by about 32,000 votes, or 0.4%.
PolitiFact found there were mistakes by Broward election officials in 2018. For example, Scott's campaign noted that days after the election, Broward mixed about 20 rejected provisional ballots in with about 200 legitimate ones.
But that's not the same as fraud.
Brenda Snipes, Broward elections supervisor at that time and a Democrat, had a history of errors, sluggish vote counting and lawsuits. But none of that meant Snipes — or anyone in her office — tried to steal an election or acted criminally. Snipes ultimately resigned.
Days after the election, Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the vote counting and announced he would sue Broward and Palm Beach election supervisors.
In April 2020, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released a six-page summary of an investigation into allegations of Democrats committing fraud in Broward, Santa Rosa, Citrus and Okaloosa counties and said it found "no evidence of fraudulent intent."
Three people associated with Florida’s Democratic Party altered the submission deadlines on affidavits to correct signature issues on mail-in ballots. However, the people had changed the form in anticipation of a court ruling to allow rejected mail-in ballots to be counted.
The investigation found the people "had no intent to disseminate" the form without the court's prior approval. Florida Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox said there was insufficient "evidence to support prosecution" in that case, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The Broward County auditor wrote a report in 2020 stating that the elections office in 2018 had exhibited poor planning and waste and he was "unable to provide assurance over the accuracy" of the results.
But county commissioners and Peter Antonacci, who was appointed supervisor, pushed back on that conclusion. Antonacci said he agreed with individual audit findings but not the overall conclusion, and added that the findings "do not change the outcome of any race," the Sun Sentinel reported.
Election fraud allegations are usually vetted by local or state officials
It is rare for federal law enforcement to investigate allegations of voter fraud.
"Most allegations of voter fraud are first brought to light by private attorneys hired by candidates, and then they go beg local authorities and maybe local authorities will pay attention if they think there is proof," said J.C. Planas, a Florida election lawyer and former Republican state legislator, who is now a Democrat.
When voter fraud is alleged, it's typically in local races or primaries and not statewide general elections, Planas said.
"I have been doing this for a long time, and I have yet to see any credible allegation of fraud in a general election, because there is no way to do voter fraud without a voter’s compliance," Planas said.
We have found sporadic voter fraud convictions in recent years in Florida, but they are not orchestrated efforts to steal elections. They are generally people acting alone — for example, casting a mail ballot in the name of a dead relative.
Also, the FBI coming to Broward would have generated news reports, Planas said.
"Trump may very well have called people," he said. "It doesn't mean they showed up."
Trump said in the 2018 Florida governor's race "votes were being stolen by the corrupt election process in Broward. … I sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys, and the ballot theft immediately ended. … I stopped his Election from being stolen."
Trump did not support his statement with evidence. We don't know whether Trump called the Justice Department and asked it to investigate Broward's elections in November 2018, but we found no evidence of a federal investigation.
State law enforcement investigated allegations of Democrats committing fraud in a few counties, including Broward, and found "no evidence of fraudulent intent."
DeSantis was declared the winner because he received the most votes, confirmed by a recount. We found no evidence of a criminal plot in Broward to "steal" the election from DeSantis.
We rate this statement Pants on Fire!
This story originally appeared on politifact.com.