Vote count­ing drags on amid protests

Na­tional at­ten­tion is once again on Broward, Palm Beach coun­ties

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Skyler Swisher, Larry Barszewski, Linda Trischitta and Rafael Olmeda

Claims of fraud, an­gry protests and court­room skir­mishes spread Fri­day as vote count­ing dragged on in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties, draw­ing the na­tion’s ridicule back to Florida with shades of the in­fa­mous 2000 pres­i­den­tial re­count.

Fu­eled by tweets from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, dozens of protesters stormed Broward County elec­tions of­fice, di­rect­ing a chant of “lock her up” at Brenda Snipes, the county’s su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions. Demon­stra­tors in Palm Beach County de­manded that ev­ery vote be counted.

Fac­ing a dead­line of noon Sat­ur­day to sub­mit the first un­of­fi­cial re­sults, can­vass­ing board mem­bers con­tin­ued

to scru­ti­nize pro­vi­sional bal­lots well into the evening.

As of Fri­day night, an un­de­ter­mined num­ber of bal­lots re­mained to be counted in Palm Beach and Broward coun­ties. Palm Beach County elec­tions chief Su­san Bucher said her county’s can­vass­ing board could have the first un­of­fi­cial votes in late Fri­day night, slightly ahead of the dead­line.

The stakes are high with three statewide races likely headed for re­counts.

In the closely watched race for U.S. Se­nate, Scott led Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Bill Nel­son by 14,855 votes as of Fri­day night, a mar­gin close enough to trig­ger a hand re­count. The gover­nor’s con­test is close enough to war­rant a ma­chine re­count with Repub­li­can Ron DeSan­tis hold­ing a 36,002-vote lead over Demo­cratic nom­i­nee An­drew Gil­lum. In the race for agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner, Demo­crat Nikki Fried led Repub­li­can Matt Cald­well by 3,120 votes.

Ma­chine re­counts could start as early as Sun­day morn­ing and must be fin­ished by Thurs­day. The dead­line to com­plete a hand re­count is Nov. 18, ac­cord­ing to the Florida Divi­sion of Elec­tions.

Un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims of fraud

Three days af­ter Elec­tion Day, the Se­nate can­di­dates con­tin­ued to clash in the bit­ter par­ti­san fight. Scott de­liv­ered a speech Thurs­day night at the gover­nor’s man­sion, call­ing for state po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate po­ten­tial “ram­pant fraud” with the count­ing of bal­lots in the Demo­cratic strongholds of Palm Beach and Broward coun­ties. He ac­cused “un­eth­i­cal lib­er­als” of try­ing to steal the elec­tion.

De­spite that speech, the Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment hasn’t re­ceived re­ports of voter fraud from the Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice, and the agency has not re­ceived a writ­ten re­quest from Scott to in­ves­ti­gate, said Jes­sica Cary, an FDLE spokes­woman.

In his first pub­lic re­marks since the elec­tion, Nel­son ac­cused Scott of try­ing “to stop a com­plete and ac­cu­rate count­ing of all the votes.”

“I won’t stand for any­one us­ing his po­si­tion to un­der­mine our demo­cratic process, and nei­ther should the peo­ple of Florida,” he said. “It’s wrong and it goes against ev­ery value that we have in our coun­try.”

Scott’s claims struck a nerve with protesters.

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.

At the can­vass­ing boards, party ob­servers watched as pro­vi­sional bal­lots were scru­ti­nized.

With ev­ery vote be­ing cru­cial, ob­servers from the Nel­son and Gil­lum cam­paigns ob­jected when­ever the Palm Beach can­vass­ing board re­jected a bal­lot that was cast by a voter in the wrong precinct.

Bucher, Palm Beach County’s elec­tions head, fired back against claims of fraud.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that some of the high­est elected of­fi­cials are try­ing to dis­rupt our democ­racy be­cause they don’t like the de­mo­graph­ics of our vot­ers,” she said.

She added, “The de­mo­graph­ics of our county – they don’t like them, and you know why.”

Le­gal fight brew­ing

Both sides are dig­ging in for a pro­tracted le­gal bat­tle.

A judge sided Fri­day with Scott in a law­suit against Broward County’s elec­tions su­per­vi­sor. Broward Cir­cuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips gave Snipes un­til 7 p.m. Fri­day to turn over pub­lic records of vot­ing ac­tiv­ity sought by Scott’s Se­nate cam­paign.

Snipes also must share doc­u­ments that show the num­ber of bal­lots cast, the num­ber of bal­lots counted and how many are still to be counted, all re­quests made in Scott’s com­plaint.

“This court finds once again Broward County is un­der the mi­cro­scope and be­ing viewed by the en­tire na­tion,” Phillips said. “Hear­ing ar­gu­ment, this court finds that there has been a vi­o­la­tion of the Florida Constitution, the Florida statute pub­lic records act and pur­suant to the ap­pli­ca­ble case law.”

In Palm Beach County, Scott’s cam­paign al­leged Bucher did not al­low out­side wit­nesses to watch elec­tions staff du­pli­cate bal­lots that couldn’t be fed through ma­chines be­cause they had been dam­aged or not filled out prop­erly. Palm Beach County Cir­cuit Judge Krista Marx or­dered on Fri­day that any dis­qual­i­fied bal­lots will need to be re­viewed by the county’s can­vass­ing board. The judge also or­dered the re­lease of the names of vot­ers who cast pro­vi­sional bal­lots.

Nel­son’s cam­paign is su­ing Sec­re­tary of State Ken Det­zner, ac­cus­ing elec­tion of­fi­cials of dis­en­fran­chis­ing vot­ers by dis­card­ing ab­sen­tee and pro­vi­sional bal­lots where the sig­na­tures don’t ap­pear to match.

Marc Elias, lead re­count at­tor­ney for Nel­son, said elec­tion of­fi­cials are us­ing their “un­trained opin­ions” on hand­writ­ing to dis­card votes. He said Scott’s calls for the FDLE to in­ves­ti­gate elec­tions of­fi­cials in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties crossed a line.

Elias said he thinks that Nel­son will be ahead when the re­count is com­pleted and that Scott’s com­ments re­flect a can­di­date who is fear­ful.

“This is not a third world dic­ta­tor­ship," he said. "We don’t let peo­ple seize bal­lots when they think they’re los­ing."

Scott is tout­ing his own le­gal fire­power.

He tweeted Fri­day morn­ing that the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee has re­tained the law firm Gib­son Dunn — vet­er­ans of the Bush v. Gore case that de­cided the 2000 pres­i­den­tial con­test in fa­vor of Ge­orge W. Bush.

MIKE STOCKER/SUN SEN­TINEL

Fu­eled by tweets from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, protesters gather out­side as the Broward county can­vass­ing board con­tin­ues to count votes on Fri­day.

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