Florida official known for missteps in recount cross hairs
By CURT ANDERSON
Wednesday, November 14
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — At the center of Florida’s vote recount storm is an elections supervisor with a checkered past whose Democratic-dominated county has been the target of protests and accusations, including by President Donald Trump, that something fraudulent is afoot.
Lawyers for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is in a razor-thin Senate race with incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, have claimed that Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes committed fraud without presenting any evidence. Trump has echoed those claims on Twitter.
State monitors and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement say there are no indications of fraud in the county’s vote.
Yet, Snipes, a Democrat, remains a target for the GOP, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed her to the post in 2003 when the previous supervisor was accused of malfeasance and now says Snipes should be removed. Snipes has been re-elected since then, and is unapologetic about her record.
“I’ve worked here for about 15 years, and I have to say this the first time that this office or I have been under such attacks,” Snipes told reporters Monday. “There have been issues that haven’t gone the way we wanted it. You can call it a mistake or you can call it whatever you want to call it.”
On Tuesday, Snipes hinted to reporters that she might not run for re-election in 2020 — “It is time to move on,” she said — but quickly added that no final decision has been made.
“I’ll check with my family and they’ll tell me what I’m doing,” she said.
Since Snipes has been in office, there seems to be a long list of these mistakes.
Earlier this year, for example, a judge ruled she broke election law by destroying ballots in a 2016 congressional primary race involving Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz without waiting the required 22 months. Also in 2016, a medical marijuana amendment didn’t appear on some Broward ballots, and again that year results from primary elections were posted on the office’s website before polls had closed.
A week after the 2012 election, about 1,000 uncounted ballots were suddenly discovered. And in 2004, about 58,000 mail-in ballots were not delivered, requiring workers to hurry to replace them.
Just last week, a judge found that Snipes had violated Florida open records laws by failing to quickly provide voting records to attorneys for Scott’s Senate campaign.
“This is not a case about counting votes. This is a simple case about access to information that the supervisor of elections was required to have and required to provide,” said Scott lawyer Jordan Zimmerman. “This is simply public information the public is entitled to.”
Snipes, 68, a native of Talladega, Alabama, moved to Broward County in 1964 to begin what became a long career as an educator. She eventually rose to become an area director in the public school system, leading principals from 16 schools, according to the supervisor’s office web site.
In 2003 Bush appointed her to the supervisor’s position after her predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, was removed from office because of numerous problems in the 2002 primary election.
Now Bush is calling for Snipes to be removed after the ongoing recount .
Scott has not commented on whether he would take such a step. However, in his nearly eight years as governor, Scott has only suspended or removed elected officials when they are charged with crimes.
Snipes remains a target of Trump and other Republicans, including a cadre of protesters who have sometimes broken into chants of “lock her up,” mainly because of their claims she is trying to tilt the elections for Senate and governor to the Democrats. Scott has a slim lead over Nelson and Republican Ron DeSantis is ahead of Democrat Andrew Gillum for governor.
Elections experts, however, say it’s not unusual for contested or provisional votes in “blue” Democratic counties like Broward to mainly support that party.
“It is no surprise that Democrats gain votes later in the counting process in part because big cities tend to contain lots of Democratic votes, and given their population, cities take much longer to count,” said Richard Hasen, law professor at the University of California-Irvine and author of books on election controversies, in an opinion article Monday in Slate.
“Although nerve-wracking, there’s nothing at all nefarious about any of this protracted counting,” he added.
Snipes’ attorney, Eugene Pettis, said “people are going to scream fraud no matter what” and that the Broward process is moving forward in an orderly fashion. Snipes insists Broward will meet the Thursday deadline for all votes to be sent to the State Department.
“It takes time to go through those ballots. It should not be missed on anyone that state law permits until 12 o’clock four days after the election to submit your preliminary results. If it didn’t take up to four days, the law wouldn’t have put that in there,” Pettis said.
Associated Press video reporter Josh Replogle and writer Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://miamicurttwitter.com
Partial mycoheterotrophs: The green plants that feed on fungi
November 14, 2018
Associate Professor of Botany, University of Hawaii
Nicole Hynson receives funding from The National Science Foundation and the WM Keck Foundation.
You probably learned this basic lesson of biology in elementary school: Plants are self-feeders. These so-called autotrophs use the sun’s energy and water to turn carbon dioxide from the air into food through the process known as photosynthesis. Autotrophic organisms sit at the base of every food chain on Earth and sustain all levels of life as we know it.
But competition among plants for resources like water, light and nutrients can be intense. Unlike most living things, plants are basically immobile, stuck in the place where they’re rooted. They don’t have legs to escape unpleasant conditions. They can’t run after prey or head to the store when they’re hungry.
Because of this rootedness, plants have come up with some intriguing adaptations for making a living, one of which is known as “mycoheterotrophy” or “fungus-feeding.”
The majority of land plant families form mutually beneficial partnerships with root-inhabiting fungi known as mycorrhizal fungi. But some plants have evolved to cheat this mutualism. They don’t provide any known return benefits – such as carbohydrates derived from photosynthesis – to their fungal partners. Instead, these mycoheterotrophic plants receive both carbohydrates and other nutrients from their mycorrhizal partners, subverting the need to compete with neighboring plants for resources.
This selfish kind of symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi was a surprising revelation for botanists and adds some nuance to our basic understanding of how plants make a living.
Siphoning off the good stuff
Often these mycoheterotrophic plants pair with fungi that they share with surrounding trees. What this means is that the original carbon source for many mycoheterotrophs is photosynthesis performed by a neighboring tree. These trees, being good partners, use some of the carbon they produce through photosynthesis to “pay” their mycorrhizal fungi. But some of this carbon is “stolen” by the mycoheterotroph. Clever.
This three-part network of autotroph, mycoheterotroph and mycorrhizal fungus may seem bizarre, but the mycoheterotrophic lifestyle has actually arisen at least 46 independent times throughout the evolutionary history of the plant kingdom. It turns up in seven out of the 10 major lineages of land plants. The largest plant family on Earth – the orchids – are all initially mycoheterotrophic at their earliest stages of seedling development.
When it comes to mycoheterotrophy, orchids present a particularly interesting example due not only to their sheer diversity and wide global distributions, but because they are the bet hedgers of the plant kingdom. All wild orchids rely on fungi to feed developing seedlings. But once they mature to the point of forming leaves – thereby becoming capable of feeding themselves via photosynthesis – not all orchids give up the cushy sugar-daddy relationship they have with fungi.
Instead, these orchids remain partially mycoheterotrophic, deriving a portion of their carbohydrates from their fungal symbionts while meeting the remainder of their demands through photosynthesis. Interestingly, this reliance on mycoheterotrophy can increase or decrease in response to changing environmental conditions such as light availability.
Taking it down to the atomic level
These leafy green orchids look like any other autotrophic plant. So how do ecological researchers like me know that they’re partially mycoheterotrophic? The answer lies in the atom.
Another basic lesson you may remember, this time from chemistry class, is that atoms are made up of three primary particles: electrons, protons and neutrons. An atom’s mass is determined by a count of its protons and neutrons.
For example, if you look at a periodic table of elements, carbon has an atomic number of six: it has six protons and, most commonly, six neutrons. This version of carbon – also known as ¹²C – is the most abundant form of carbon on Earth, making up 98.89 percent of the stable carbon on our planet.
But it’s not the only form. Like most elements, carbon comes in rarer flavors, too. These forms, with different atomic masses due to varying numbers of neutrons, are called isotopes. A version of carbon known as ¹³C – thanks to its six protons and seven neutrons – makes up the other 1.1 percent of stable carbon on Earth.
What do isotopes have to do with detecting mycoheterotrophic orchids? Turns out, quite a lot because of the way living things – like plants – use or “digest” the different versions of carbon. Under ideal conditions, plants prefer to use the vastly more abundant ¹²CO₂ as an ingredient for photosynthesis, though they can use the heavier ¹³CO₂ version too.
Once CO₂ is fixed within the plant, whichever isotopes it contained, as the carbon is processed or “digested” the ratio of ¹³C to ¹²C changes. The plant’s tissues end up with relatively more ¹²C than what was in what they originally “ate.” When that plant uses some of its carbon originating from photosynthesis to feed its mycorrhizal fungi, the fungi receive specific carbon molecules that are enriched in ¹³C relative to the whole plant.
This an isotope food chain. As you go from primary producer, to consumer and so on, organisms become more and more enriched in the heavy form of carbon or ¹³C.
An autotroph’s atomic signature
Scientists can measure the ratio of ¹³C to ¹²C in plants, fungi or the air we breathe. Using a machine called a stable isotope mass spectrometer, we count the number of ¹³C versus ¹²C atoms in a substrate. But what does that ratio tell us? Based on the relative abundance of ¹³C atoms we can say where an organism falls within a food chain – that is, whether it’s an autotroph or a consumer.
We know that when a plant relies mainly on autotrophy it will have relatively few ¹³C atoms. But in the case of some orchids, their ¹³C counts are through the roof, with carbon ratios more similar to those of fungi than plants. This finding, published in 2003, was the first indication that these orchids were relying, at least in part, on a very different form of carbon than their neighboring autotrophs.
Being rooted can lead to interesting and unexpected partnerships for plants – definitely more than meets the eye.