Echoes of 2000 as Florida faces re­count

Protests, charges of fraud af­ter state’s Se­nate race re­mains too close to call


As heav­ily Demo­cratic coun­ties in South Florida scram­bled to meet a Satur­day dead­line to re­port elec­tion re­turns, Repub­li­can Rick Scott’s lead over Demo­crat Bill Nel­son in the U.S. Se­nate race shrunk to just 12,562 votes out of nearly 8.2 mil­lion votes cast, en­sur­ing a re­count.

Vote to­tals posted Satur­day showed the mar­gin in the mar­quee race in the na­tion’s big­gest bat­tle­ground state at .015 per cent, close enough to trig­ger a re­count by ma­chine.

Also hit­ting that thresh­old was the race for gover­nor be- tween Demo­crat An­drew Gil­lum and Repub­li­can Ron DeSan­tis, who is sit­ting on slightly big­ger cush­ion of 33,684 votes.

In Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties Satur­day morn­ing, at­tor­neys from both par­ties quib­bled over bal­lots in which the in­tent or el­i­gi­bil­ity of the voter was in doubt as the min­utes ticked to­ward a noon dead­line. Scott’s nar­row­ing lead as vote­count­ing con­tin­ued this week has pro­voked lit­i­ga­tion and rau­cous street protests rem­i­nis­cent of the con­tentious 2000 elec­tion, as well as ac­cu­sa­tions by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of “elec­tion theft.”

Scott, who has also raised al­le­ga­tions of fraud, used his bully pul­pit Satur­day to en­cour­age Florida sher­iffs to keep an eye out for any vi­o­la­tions of elec­tion laws.

But the claims by the presi- dent and the gover­nor were un­der­cut Satur­day by the Florida Depart­ment of State, which said in a state­ment it found “no ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity at this time.” The depart­ment, which over­sees elec­tions, had sent two mon­i­tors to ob­serve Tues­day’s vote in Broward County as the re­sult of a law­suit over the mis­han­dling of bal­lots in a 2016 con­gres­sional race.

A spokesper­son for the state depart­ment, Sarah Rev­ell, said the ob­servers were sent to “mon­i­tor the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the elec­tion, in­clud­ing vis­it­ing polling lo­ca­tions through­out the day as needed and ob­serv­ing prepa­ra­tion of the vot­ing equip­ment and pro­ce­dures for the elec­tion.” The mon­i­tors have con­tin­ued to ob­serve the vote-count­ing this week.

Nel­son has ac­cused Scott of us­ing the power of his of­fice to try to se­cure his Se­nate vic­tory. Ear­lier this week, the gover­nor called for state law en­force­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the vot­ing in South Florida — a probe that the state agency has so far de­clined to be­gin be­cause the state depart­ment has not pre­sented any al­le­ga­tions of fraud.

Un­der Florida law, a statewide ma­chine re­count is con­ducted when the mar­gin of vic­tory is less than 0.5 per cent, and a man­ual re­count is or­dered if the mar­gin is less than 0.25 per cent. The gover­nor’s race does not ap­pear to meet the man­ual re­count stan­dard, ac­cord­ing to Satur­day’s tally.

Aman­ual re­count is de­fined as “a hand re­count of over votes and un­der votes set aside from the ma­chine re­count,” cen­tring on bal­lots in which vot­ers skipped a race or voted for two can­di­dates in one race.

Of­fi­cials from both par­ties have fo­cused much of their ire on Brenda Snipes, su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions in Broward County, Florida’s se­cond-largest county and the site of the “hang­ing chads” and other bal­lot ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties dur­ing the 2000 pres­i­den­tial re­count.

In a brief in­ter­view, Snipes brushed off the crit­i­cism. “It’s kind of like a hur­ri­cane, where things get re­ally stirred up for a while and then it passes,” she said. “I don’t know when this will pass, but it will.”

The bat­tle is also play­ing out on a na­tional level, as the Scott cam­paign ar­ranged for Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham to com­plain about the vote-count­ing in a call with re­porters. He com­pared the sit­u­a­tion in Florida to the con­tentious con­fir­ma­tion of Supreme Court Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh.

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