Prospect of Fla. re­count sets off par­ti­san bat­tle

WITH NO PROOF, TRUMP CITES FRAUD GOP Se­nate can­di­date sees his lead shrink

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY AMY GARD­NER, BETH REIN­HARD AND LORI ROZSA

The ra­zor-close Se­nate race in Florida erupted into out­right par­ti­san war­fare Fri­day as Democrats pressed for a re­count and Repub­li­cans — in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Trump — ac­cused lo­cal elec­tions of­fi­cials of tilt­ing the out­come against them.

Trump and his al­lies of­fered no ev­i­dence that fraud was to blame for a di­min­ish­ing GOP lead in heav­ily Demo­cratic Broward County in South Florida, where the still-un­fin­ished count­ing of ab­sen­tee and pro­vi­sional bal­lots has nar­rowed Repub­li­can Rick Scott’s statewide lead to less than one-half of a per­cent­age point.

The mar­gin is ex­pected to trig­ger a re­count of bal­lots, which could be­gin as early as Sat­ur­day in coun­ties across the state. It also has prompted vo­cal protests from Repub­li­cans — a dra­matic shift in rhetoric since Tues­day, when Trump de­clared “in­cred­i­ble” vic­to­ries across the coun­try and stayed away from ac­cu­sa­tions of a “rigged” elec­tion de­spite mixed re­sults.

Those ac­cu­sa­tions came roar­ing back Fri­day in both Florida and Ari­zona, where an­other close Se­nate race hangs on a slow bal­lot count.

“Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Elec­tion Day, now they ‘found’ many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes,” Trump tweeted Fri­day about the Florida Se­nate race. “‘ The Broward Ef­fect.’ How come they never find Repub­li­can votes?”

In a sep­a­rate tweet, Trump claimed “Elec­toral cor­rup­tion” in the Ari­zona Se­nate race, where Demo­crat Kyrsten Sinema has taken a slim lead over Repub­li­can Martha McSally since Tues­day.

In Florida, the on­go­ing can­vass has pro­duced votes for both Scott and his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Sen. Bill Nel­son — but more for Nel­son. That didn’t stop other Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing Don­ald Trump Jr. and Sen. Marco Ru­bio

(Fla.), from rais­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of fraud.

On the ground in Broward County, protesters took to the side­walks out­side elec­tion of­fices in Lauder­hill to de­mand the ouster of Brenda Snipes, the su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions, who has faced a string of ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­man­age­ment over the past decade. The scene was rem­i­nis­cent of the par­ti­san street fights that ac­com­pa­nied the con­tentious pres­i­den­tial re­count of 2000; for three hours, about 200 peo­ple shouted and waved signs.

“Make ev­ery vote count!” Democrats yelled.

“Twice!” replied the Repub­li­cans, mock­ingly. The nearly con­stant chants men­tioned Trump more than Scott, but mostly they cen­tered on Snipes. “Lock her up!” protesters re­peated hun­dreds of times, echo­ing the cry at Trump cam­paign ral­lies about Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Scott, Florida’s gover­nor, in an ap­pear­ance at the gover­nor’s man­sion Thurs­day, went so far as to sug­gest “ram­pant fraud” and called for a state law en­force­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion, draw­ing crit­i­cism from Nel­son that he is us­ing the power of his of­fice to en­sure his Se­nate vic­tory.

“The gover­nor has de­cided to aban­don the most fun­da­men­tal of all rights be­cause he fears that he will lose the elec­tion if all the votes are counted,” Nel­son said in a video re­leased Fri­day. “. . . Votes are not be­ing found. They’re be­ing counted.”

As of Fri­day af­ter­noon, Scott had a lead over Nel­son of just more than 16,000 votes, or 0.19 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. In the gover­nor’s race, Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum (D) trailed for­mer con­gress­man Ron DeSan­tis (R) by more than 36,000 votes, or 0.45 per­cent.

Un­der Florida law, a statewide ma­chine re­count is con­ducted when the mar­gin of vic­tory is less than 0.5 per­cent, and a man­ual re­count is or­dered if the mar­gin is less than 0.25 per­cent.

A lawyer for Nel­son, Marc Elias, said in a call with re­porters Fri­day that the can­vass un­der­way in Broward and else­where in Florida is a “fea­ture, not a flaw, of our demo­cratic sys­tem” to en­sure that all valid votes are counted. He ac­cused Repub­li­cans of falsely claim­ing voter fraud sim­ply be­cause the mar­gin had changed.

“The lead is just over 15,000 votes now, which seemed to cause the gover­nor to hold an im­promptu news con­fer­ence to ac­knowl­edge the shrink­ing state of the mar­gin,” Elias said.

Both cam­paigns also went to court, al­low­ing Scott to claim two quick vic­to­ries Fri­day, when a judge or­dered of­fi­cials in Palm Beach County to open their can­vass to pub­lic in­spec­tion, and an­other judge or­dered Broward of­fi­cials to re­lease doc­u­ments the gover­nor had de­manded.

Nel­son’s suit seeks to re­ex­am­ine ab­sen­tee and pro­vi­sional bal­lots when sig­na­tures on the bal­lots don’t match voter regis­tra­tion records. In Ge­or­gia last month, a fed­eral judge or­dered lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials to stop throw­ing out bal­lots be­cause of sig­na­ture is­sues.

The Scott cam­paign lashed back. “Their des­per­a­tion has driven them to ask the fed­eral courts to al­low voter fraud,” cam­paign man­ager Jackie Schutz Zeck­man said. “They are ask­ing courts to over­rule elec­tion of­fi­cials and ac­cept bal­lots that were not legally cast.”

Re­ports have poured in from vot­ers com­plain­ing that their bal- lots were im­prop­erly re­jected; one came from Patrick Mur­phy, a for­mer Demo­cratic con­gress­man from Palm Beach, who tweeted: “Just saw no­tice from @PBCounty that my ab­sen­tee bal­lot wasn’t counted due to ‘in­valid sig­na­ture’ match. Should be +1 @Nel­sonForSe­nate @An­drewGil­lum. Must over­haul th­ese ridicu­lous bar­ri­ers to vot­ing.”

In Ge­or­gia, the closely fought gover­nor’s con­test has prompted Democrats to ac­cuse Repub­li­can con­tender Brian Kemp of mis­con­duct. Kemp served as sec­re­tary of state un­til Thurs­day and was a cham­pion of new vot­ing laws that Democrats say dis­en­fran­chised thou­sands of vot­ers, most of them mi­nori­ties. Sup­port­ers of Demo­crat Stacey Abrams scram­bled Fri­day to force a runoff by help­ing vot­ers val­i­date their pro­vi­sional bal­lots.

This is not the first time Broward County and Snipes, the elec­tions su­per­vi­sor there, have been at the cen­ter of bal­lot-count­ing con­tro­ver­sies. Broward was the set­ting for con­tentious de­bates over “hang­ing chads” and other bal­lot ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties that de­ter­mined the out­come of the 2000 pres­i­den­tial con­test be­tween Ge­orge W. Bush and Al Gore.

Dur­ing the 2004 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Snipes blamed the U.S. Postal Ser­vice for los­ing 58,000 ab­sen­tee bal­lots, then later an­nounced that only 6,000 bal­lots had dis­ap­peared. Postal of­fi­cials said they had done noth­ing wrong. Then Snipes’s of­fice dropped off 2,400 blank ab­sen­tee bal­lots for vot­ers at the post of­fice on a Sat­ur­day be­fore the elec­tion, af­ter mail car­ri­ers were al­ready gone for the day.

And in 2016, Demo­cratic Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz faced a pri­mary chal­lenge from a Bernie San­ders-backed can­di­date, Tim Canova, in Florida’s 23rd Dis­trict. Canova sued Broward elec­tion of­fi­cials and asked to in­spect the phys­i­cal bal­lots in the race. Snipes was ac­cused of de­stroy­ing the phys­i­cal bal­lots while sav­ing dig­i­tal copies as the law­suit was pend­ing — a vi­o­la­tion of a fed­eral statute re­quir­ing that con­gres­sional bal­lots be saved for 22 months af­ter an elec­tion.

“Ev­ery Florid­ian should be con­cerned there may be ram­pant fraud hap­pen­ing in Palm Beach and Broward coun­ties, and the Broward su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions, Brenda Snipes, has a his­tory of act­ing in ab­so­lute bad faith,” Scott said Thurs­day.

Ru­bio said that Snipes is a “can­di­date for re­moval.”

Snipes could not be reached for com­ment. Her at­tor­ney, Bur­nadette Nor­ris-Weeks, ar­gued that vote-count­ing takes time in large coun­ties such as Broward. Scott — and the me­dia — were too hasty in declar­ing him the win­ner in the Se­nate race, she said.

“They are call­ing th­ese races way too soon,” she said.

Scott sought to raise money off the con­tro­versy, hold­ing a 12minute call with about 90 donors Fri­day af­ter­noon dur­ing which he asked for con­tri­bu­tions. “I am dis­ap­pointed in Bill Nel­son,” Scott said, ac­cord­ing to a per­son on the call. Scott also said it was “hard to be­lieve they are still count­ing.”

State law al­lows the gover­nor to sus­pend an elec­tions su­per­vi­sor for malfea­sance or in­com­pe­tence and ap­point a re­place­ment. Snipes was ap­pointed by thenGov. Jeb Bush, a Repub­li­can, in 2003 af­ter he ousted her pre­de­ces­sor.

A spokesman for the Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment, Jeremy Burns, said the agency had not be­gun an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in re­sponse to Scott’s de­mand be­cause the Depart­ment of State said there are cur­rently no al­le­ga­tions of fraud. The gover­nor has the abil­ity to sin­gle-hand­edly di­rect an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by sub­mit­ting a let­ter to the agency’s di­rec­tor, Burns said, but he has not done so.

Each county’s three-per­son can­vass­ing board is re­quired to re­port re­turns by noon Sat­ur­day. The Florida sec­re­tary of state will then de­ter­mine if any races meet the thresh­old for ma­chine re­counts. If re­counts are or­dered, those tal­lies are due by Thurs­day. Then, the sec­re­tary of state will de­ter­mine if any races meet the thresh­old for a man­ual re­count, which is de­fined as “a hand re­count of over­votes and un­der­votes set aside from the ma­chine re­count.”

Those set-aside bal­lots — in which vot­ers skipped a race or voted for two can­di­dates in one race — would be the sub­ject of the man­ual re­count.

JOE SKIP­PER/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A crowd protests out­side the Broward County elec­tions of­fice in Lauder­hill, Fla. They called for the ouster of elec­tions su­per­vi­sor Brenda Snipes, al­leg­ing cor­rup­tion and chant­ing “Lock her up!”

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