Florida again at center of election controversy
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.
— Florida is once again at the center of election controversy, but this year there are no hanging chads or butterfly ballots like in 2000. And no angry mobs in suits — at least not yet.
The deeply purple state will learn Saturday whether there will be recounts in the bitter and tight U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson; and in the governor’s race between former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum.
The state’s recount procedures have been revised since Florida held the country hostage for a month 18 years ago, when George W. Bush edged Al Gore for the presidency. Among other things, the infamous punch-card ballots are no longer.
Yet, Scott and President Donald Trump on Friday alleged fraud without evidence, even as the often-laborious process of reviewing ballots in a close race continued ahead of the Saturday noon deadline. Both Scott and Nelson sought to get the courts to intervene.
Scott said “unethical liberals” were trying to steal the election in Democratic strongholds of Broward and Palm Beach County. He suggested something was awry because vote-counters were taking longer there than in other jurisdictions, and his thin lead has kept narrowing since Election Night. On Friday, he led by 0.21 percentage point, low enough to require a recount.
Nelson lawyer Marc Elias said Scott was using his official position to try to influence the election.
“He himself said that as ballots are being counted, it is tightening. Then he made some veiled threat or suggestion that he was somehow going to involve law enforcement,” Elias said. “This is not a third world dictatorship. We do not let people seize ballots when they think they’re losing.”
A recount is mandatory if the winning candidate’s margin is less than 0.5 percentage points when the first unofficial count is verified Saturday by Florida’s secretary of state. And if the margin is less than 0.25 percent, the recount must be done by hand.
In Washington, Trump took Scott’s side, telling reporters that the federal government could get involved and adding: “all of the sudden they are finding votes out of nowhere.”
“What’s going on in Florida is a disgrace,” he said.
While the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said there had been no allegations of fraud, Scott asked — but did not order — the agency to investigate the counties’ elections departments. A spokeswoman for the agency said there were no credible allegations of fraud, therefore no active investigation.
In this image taken from video, Susan Bucher, right, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, and Judge August Bonavita, left, look at provisional ballots Friday in Riviera Beach, Fla.