Election results lead to heated recounts
Scott, Nelson trade lawsuits as contentious vote tally continues
Crowds chanted, lawsuits were filed and accusations flew Friday as Florida’s election chaos hurtled toward three statewide recounts, including a likely hand recount in the heated U.S. Senate race.
Most of the drama centered on Palm Beach and Broward counties, where supervisors of elections offices were still tabulating thousands of votes cast before and during Election Day.
Gov. Rick Scott, the challenger who led incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson by as many as 60,000 votes on election night, claimed that the two counties were “mysteriously finding more votes.”
Nelson, who had pulled to within less than 15,000 votes of Scott by Friday evening, called the governor’s comments “irresponsible, unethical and unprecedented.” He added, “votes are not being found, they're being counted.”
The tiny difference — just 0.18 percentage points of the nearly 8.2 million votes cast — meant the race was headed to a lengthy hand recount, triggered by law with margins of less than 0.25 percentage points.
“No one should stand in the way of the people of our state exercising their right to vote and to have their voice heard,” Nelson said. “Clearly, Rick Scott is trying to stop all the votes from being counted and he’s impeding the democratic process. … He’s worried and he’s desperate. The reason why he feels that way is obvious: we believe when every legal ballot is counted we’ll win this election.”
In his news conference at the Governor’s Mansion on Thursday night, Scott had asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the county supervisors of elections offices in Broward and Palm Beach counties, where it was unclear how many votes were still to be counted.
But FDLE spokesman Jeremy Burns said Friday the agency was not investigating the election, saying the Florida Secretary of State told them “they had no indications of fraud.”
Scott’s request was slammed by
Marc Elias, Nelson’s recount attorney, who said in a conference call with reporters that, “This is not a third-world dictatorship. We don’t let people seize ballots when they think they’re losing.”
Scott was victorious, however, in his lawsuits against the Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher and Broward Supervisor Brenda Snipes.
A judge granted an injunction ordering Bucher to submit all ballots in which a vote for Senate wasn’t initially recorded to the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board “for an open and public review of each vote,’’ the Scott campaign said.
Snipes must also provide the Scott campaign documents showing the number of ballots cast, the number of ballots counted and how many are still to be counted in her county.
The Nelson campaign, meanwhile, sued in federal court seeking to extend the Saturday at noon deadline for counties to complete counting ballots.
The campaign argued the 67 counties’ “standardless and inconsistent signature-matching process” for vote-by-mail and provisional ballots has led to wildly different reasons for counties to reject ballots, with the votes of minorities and young people disproportionately rejected.
The Scott campaign responded that the lawsuit meant the Nelson campaign was “asking courts to overrule election officials and accept ballots that were not legally cast.”
One person whose voteby-mail ballot was declared invalid due to signature issues was the Democrats’ 2016 candidate for U.S. Senate, Patrick Murphy, who said on Twitter he learned from Palm Beach County on Friday morning that his ballot was rejected. Murphy lost to incumbent Republican Marco Rubio.
Outside the office of Broward elections chief Brenda Snipes, about 75 Republican supporters chanted “lock her up,” “bye, bye Brenda,” and “stop the steal.”
"They're putting ballots in, and signing ballots that don't exist," said Jodi Sandak of Boynton Beach, a member of Americans for Trump Broward Chapter, who held a sign with a picture of Snipes under the heading “Supervisor of Corruption.”
Scott directed ire at Snipes as well.
“Some believe that this is simply rank incompetence,” Scott said Thursday night. “That is clearly true. But it would also be naïve to not realize that they could be trying to overrule the will of the voters of Florida.”
Other Republicans, so far without evidence, also have claimed fraud was causing Scott’s lead to shrink, with Rubio questioning the integrity of Snipes as well.
President Trump tweeted Friday, “You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia – but the Election was on Tuesday?”
Elias, though, said the opportunity for counties to count ballots over several days before being certified is “a feature, not a flaw, of the democratic system. It allows a counting period after an election to ensure every vote is counted.”
Florida law allows four days for elections supervisors to tally votes.
Elias added that the margins have shrunk not only from votes being counted in Broward and Palm Beach, but from provisional ballots being approved and counted statewide as canvassing boards met. Provisional ballots tend to lean Democratic, he said, even in Republican-leaning counties.
In the governor’s race, meanwhile, Andrew Gillum trailed Ron DeSantis by about 36,000 votes, or 0.44 points, which would trigger a machine recount if the margin is less than 0.5
At the same time, Democratic agriculture commissioner candidate Nikki Fried saw her lead expand over Republican Matt Caldwell to 2,624 votes. Fried had been behind on Election Day but took the lead for the first time Thursday.
On Friday, Caldwell filed yet another lawsuit against Snipes, asking courts to determine if her office “illegally included ballots after polls closed on Tuesday, Nov. 6, and if so, to remove those votes from the electoral tabulation.”
The automatic recounts are a result of changes made after the 2000 election when Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris opposed a recount in the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.