As re­counts mul­ti­ply, Scott blasts Broward

Gov. Rick Scott sues the county ’s su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions as the bal­lot count teeters in his race.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY DAVID SMILEY, EL­IZ­A­BETH KOH AND STEVE BOUSQUET

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — A vis­i­bly frus­trated Gov. Rick Scott on Thurs­day night ac­cused “un­eth­i­cal lib­er­als” of try­ing to steal a U.S. Se­nate seat from him, as his cam­paign filed a law­suit against elec­tions su­per­vi­sors in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties for al­legedly re­fus­ing to re­lease de­tails on vot­ing tab­u­la­tions.

“I will not sit idly by while un­eth­i­cal lib­er­als try to steal this elec­tion from the great peo­ple of Florida,” Scott told re­porters as he stood on the steps of the Gover­nor’s Man­sion in Tal­la­has­see.

Scott took the un­usual step of de­liv­er­ing a par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal at­tack from his tax­payer-funded res­i­dence, which is re­served for of­fi­cial state events. Dur­ing his eight years as gover­nor, Scott him­self has been sued mul­ti­ple times for vi­o­lat­ing pub­lic records and Sunshine laws.

Scott’s lead over Demo­crat-

ic Sen. Bill Nel­son has steadily eroded since he de­clared vic­tory Tues­day night, and he or­dered the Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment to in­ves­ti­gate Brenda Snipes, Broward’s elec­tions su­per­vi­sor.

“Their goal is to keep mys­te­ri­ously find­ing votes un­til the elec­tion turns out the way they want,” Scott said.

A Nel­son spokesman, in response to me­dia ques­tions about Scott’s al­le­ga­tions, shot back.

“The goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted ac­cu­rately,” Dan McLaugh­lin said. “Rick Scott’s ac­tion ap­pears to be po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and born out of des­per­a­tion.”

Num­bers be­ing re­ported from one of the state’s bluest bas­tions are rais­ing ques­tions about why so many fewer vot­ers ap­peared to choose a can­di­date in the U.S. Se­nate race, Florida’s most na­tion­ally prom­i­nent of­fice on this year’s bal­lot.

Al­though he sued Su­san Bucher, Palm Beach’s elec­tion su­per­vi­sor, for pub­lic records af­ter that county lagged be­hind most oth­ers, Broward was the fo­cal point of the last two days of vote count­ing be­cause of a glar­ing anom­aly.

As of Thurs­day evening, 682,073 votes had been counted in Broward in the U.S. Se­nate race, ac­cord­ing to its su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions web­site, over­whelm­ingly for Nel­son over Scott. But nearly ev­ery other statewide of­fice gar­nered more votes in Broward than the Se­nate race, par­tic­u­larly the con­test for gover­nor, with 26,060 more vot­ers — 707,021 in all — weigh­ing in.

Around noon Thurs­day, Broward Elec­tions Su­per­vi­sor Brenda Snipes could not say how many votes had yet to be counted.

“What­ever is back there we have to fin­ish it to­day,” she said, re­fer­ring to a room where work­ers were feed­ing bal­lots into ma­chines. “I don’t know if they’re all in the room, but I know they’re all opened. Open­ing is a big task and get­ting them out of that en­ve­lope. But they’re all opened, I do know that ... we’re fin­ish­ing the count as we speak.”

Broward County lags the rest of the state in com­plet­ing the first, cru­cial phases of count­ing bal­lots from Tues­day’s midterm elec­tion. As of 8 p.m. Thurs­day, the same time Scott sum­moned re­porters to the man­sion, Broward was the county out of the state’s 67 that had not re­ported to the state that it had com­pleted its tab­u­la­tion of early votes. Early vot­ing ended Sun­day in Broward.

Snipes at­trib­uted the slow pace of vote-count­ing to the num­ber of votes and the size of the bal­lot. She had no an­swers for why her of­fice was re­port­ing two dif­fer­ent num­bers for to­tal bal­lots cast, with one fig­ure show­ing 695,799 and an­other show­ing 716,268. Nor could she say why so many vot­ers may have over­looked or skipped the U.S. Se­nate race.

“I have not had an op­por­tu­nity to take a look at that,” she said about the un­der-vot­ing is­sue in the Se­nate race. “I heard that for the first time yes­ter­day. I just came out of a con­fer­ence call (with the state).”

Nel­son lawyer Marc Elias said Thurs­day that the sen­a­tor’s cam­paign be­lieved the vote gap was a ma­chine or mark­ing is­sue that would be re­solved af­ter ma­chines were re­cal­i­brated in a ma­chine re­count or in the event of a hand re­count. Some had also spec­u­lated that the bal­lot lay­out from the oft-be­lea­guered Broward of­fice might have con­trib­uted to the un­der­vote for Se­nate, not­ing that the box to vote for Nel­son or Scott landed on the lower half of the page, be­low the bal­lot instructions in the first col­umn, though Elias dis­counted that pos­si­bil­ity.

Snipes, how­ever, ruled out tech­ni­cal prob­lems.

“There’s no cal­i­bra­tion is­sue. Those ma­chines are brand new. They’re not even a year old,” she said, not­ing that two em­ploy­ees from the county ven­dor were at her Lauder­hill head­quar­ters to as­sist with the count­ing of votes.

But crit­i­cism was al­ready ar­riv­ing on her doorstep Thurs­day, as the other U.S. sen­a­tor from Florida, Marco Ru­bio, took to Twit­ter to ham­mer Snipes for “a his­tory of in­com­pe­tence (and) of bla­tant vi­o­la­tions of state (and) fed­eral laws.”

“Bay County was hit by a Cat 4 Hur­ri­cane just 4 weeks ago, yet man­aged to count votes & sub­mit timely re­sults,” he wrote. “Yet over 41 hours af­ter polls closed (the) Broward elec­tions of­fice is still count­ing votes?”

He also ac­cused Demo­cratic lawyers of try­ing to “steal” the two Se­nate and state Cabi­net seats, prompt­ing for­mer U.S. Rep. Gwen Gra­ham, a pri­mary ri­val of Gil­lum’s, to fire back: “In­stead of spew­ing false con­spir­acy the­o­ries, let our democ­racy work.“

The Se­nate un­der­vote was par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced in the frac­tion of south­ern Broward County that is part of Florida’s 24th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Matthew Is­bell noted Thurs­day on Twit­ter. That dis­trict was among those with an un­con­tested elec­tion for its U.S. House seat, he noted, mean­ing there would have been no ad­di­tional con­gres­sional race that could have helped draw at­ten­tion to the Se­nate box on the bal­lot.

The votes in Broward for the state Cabi­net races also out­num­bered the votes cast in the Se­nate race. About 13,800 more vot­ers chose a can­di­date for at­tor­ney gen­eral, and about 8,700 more votes were cast for com­mis­sioner of agri­cul­ture.

The race for agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner in par­tic­u­lar may be Democrats’ best chance to cap­ture at least one statewide seat — Demo­crat Nikki Fried led Repub­li­can Matt Cald­well by 2,910 votes Thurs­day night. Cald­well had said he was op­ti­mistic and that he ex­pects to be de­clared the win­ner af­ter the man­ual re­count, though Fried has sent out fundrais­ing emails ref­er­enc­ing the re­count and has called for vol­un­teers to help en­sure pro­vi­sional bal­lots are counted.

Should the vote dif­fer­ence in the Nel­son-Scott race re­main be­low the 0.25 per­cent mar­gin, the U.S. Se­nate race too would re­quire a drawn-out re­count process done by hand. As of Thurs­day evening, Scott was lead­ing Nel­son by only 15,102 votes.

Even the gover­nor’s race may re­quire an au­to­matic re­count done by ma­chine, af­ter mar­gins nar­rowed be­tween Gov­er­nor­elect Ron DeSan­tis and Demo­cratic nom­i­nee An­drew Gil­lum to 36,249 votes, or 0.47 per­cent, Thurs­day night. The state re­quires an au­to­matic re­count if the vote dif­fer­ence is 0.50 per­cent or lower.

Florida’s chief le­gal of­fi­cer, Sec­re­tary of State Ken Det­zner, told county elec­tions su­per­vi­sors in a con­fer­ence call to plan for as many as three statewide re­counts Thurs­day morn­ing.

“The re­counts will be na­tion­ally watched,” Det­zner told coun­ties, adding they are “un­der a mi­cro­scope.”

With Snipes’ of­fice still count­ing votes, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch stopped by her Lauder­hill head­quar­ters Thurs­day to see the process for him­self. He said peo­ple should be pa­tient.

“We know that Broward County is where the votes are. This is a big, large, ur­ban county. There are lots of votes to count in this elec­tion. The rea­son we’re here is be­cause the out­come is so close, be­cause it’s ra­zor thin,” Deutch said. “Yes, some­times it takes a lit­tle ex­tra time to make sure we get the out­come the vot­ers in­tended. That’s what’s hap­pen­ing here. Ev­ery­body should be pa­tient and re­spect the out­come once the votes have been tal­lied.”

Snipes said the state has told her of­fice to prepare for up to three re­counts. She said she ex­pects the process to take place be­tween Tues­day and Nov. 20.

Sun Sen­tinel/TNS

An em­ployee of the Broward County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions Of­fice in Lauder­hill on Thurs­day counts bal­lots from Tues­day’s elec­tion. As of Thurs­day evening, 682,073 votes had been counted in Broward in the U.S. Se­nate race.

Broward County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions Brenda Snipes

Nel­son

Scott

Gil­lum

DeSan­tis

Fried

Cald­well

South Florida Sun-Sen­tinel via As­so­ci­ated Press

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, cen­ter, vis­its the Broward County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions Of­fice in Lauder­hill on Thurs­day.

South Florida Sun-Sen­tinel via As­so­ci­ated Press

Can­vass­ing Board mem­bers Judge Betsy Ben­son, left, and Judge Deb­o­rah Car­pen­ter-Toye re­view Broward bal­lots Thurs­day.

STEVE BOUSQUET | Times

Gov. Scott speaks at a news con­fer­ence late Thurs­day at the Gover­nor’s Man­sion in Tal­la­has­see.

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