Florida again at cen­ter of elec­tion con­tro­versy

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - TERRY SPENCER

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 to­day whether re­counts will be held in the bit­ter, 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 coun­ties. 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. Late Fri­day, he led by 0.18 per­cent­age points, low enough to re­quire a re­count.

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. 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.

Scott asked the Florida De­part­ment of Law En­force­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the coun­ties’ elec­tion de­part­ments. How­ever, a spokes­woman for the agency

said there were no cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of fraud; there­fore, no ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The gover­nor, mean­while, filed law­suits in both coun­ties seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion on how their bal­lots were be­ing tal­lied. Nel­son filed his own fed­eral law­suit Fri­day, seek­ing to post­pone the Satur­day dead­line to sub­mit un­of­fi­cial elec­tion re­sults.

A judge Fri­day sided with Scott and or­dered Broward County’s elec­tion su­per­vi­sor to re­lease the voter in­for­ma­tion sought by the gover­nor.

The rul­ing came as the Broward Can­vass­ing Board met to re­view bal­lots that had been ini­tially deemed in­el­i­gi­ble. Lawyers from the cam­paigns, jour­nal­ists and cit­i­zens crowded into a room to ob­serve.

The county has not an­swered ques­tions about its process and how many votes it has left to count.

Repub­li­can U.S. Sen. Marco Ru­bio sug­gested that Brenda Snipes, the Broward su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions, should be re­moved from of­fice once the dust set­tles on the race. Ru­bio said Snipes’ fail­ure to count all bal­lots in a more timely man­ner vi­o­lates state law.

“She’s cer­tainly a can­di­date for re­moval. … This is not one bad cy­cle, this is a pat­tern,” Ru­bio said in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters.

Nel­son is­sued barbs of his own.

“No one should stand in the way of the peo­ple of our state ex­er­cis­ing their right to vote and to have their voice heard,” the sen­a­tor said in a state­ment. “Clearly, Rick Scott is try­ing to stop all the votes from be­ing counted and he’s im­ped­ing the demo­cratic process.”

In the un­de­cided race for gover­nor, DeSan­tis was lead­ing by 0.43 per­cent­age points late Fri­day. That mar­gin, if it holds, would re­quire a re­count, but DeSan­tis has mostly stayed out of the fray, say­ing he was work­ing on plans for tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary.

Gil­lum con­ceded on elec­tion night, but as the vote mar­gin be­gan to nar­row, he said he wanted to see every vote counted, strongly in­di­cat­ing he would not stand in the way of a re­count.

A third statewide race that could go to a re­count — the agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner race be­tween Demo­crat Nikki Fried and Repub­li­can Matt Cald­well — is the tight­est of all, with Fried hold­ing a 3,120-vote lead — a mar­gin of 0.039 per­cent.

In 2000, Broward and Palm Beach each played cen­tral roles in the Bush-Gore race.

At the time, both coun­ties used punch card bal­lots — vot­ers poked out chads, leav­ing tiny holes in their bal­lots rep­re­sent­ing their can­di­dates. Some didn’t press hard enough, leav­ing hang­ing or dim­pled chads that had to be ex­am­ined by hand, a long and tire­some process.

Palm Beach also was home to the in­fa­mous “but­ter­fly bal­lot” that many Democrats be­lieve cost Gore the elec­tion. An elec­tion of­fi­cial’s at­tempt to make the can­di­date’s names big­ger and eas­ier to read for se­nior cit­i­zens re­sulted in them be­ing listed in two columns in­stead of one. An­a­lysts later said the new re­design may have con­fused vot­ers and prob­a­bly cost Gore votes.

As for the an­gry mobs in suits: In late Novem­ber 2000, Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives in suits stormed the Mi­ami-Dade can­vass­ing board’s meet­ing, caus­ing the mem­bers to per­ma­nently stop their re­count, even af­ter po­lice of­fi­cers re­stored or­der. The melee be­came known as “The Brooks Broth­ers Riot.”

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