Elec­tion re­sults lead to heated re­counts

Scott, Nel­son trade law­suits as con­tentious vote tally con­tin­ues

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Steven Le­mon­gello, Gray Rohrer and Skyler Swisher

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

per­cent.

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.

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