Front-row seat to chaos
The secretary of state is expected to order recounts in a half-dozen state races today. As Democrats scoff, Trump and Scott accuse elections officials of padding vote totals.
Uncertainty in the outcome of three statewide elections has once again put Florida, the most closely watched political battleground state, in the national spotlight.
On cable news and social media, Florida has become a proxy for a deeply divided country that nationalizes political battles at every opportunity and sees conspiracies in every controversy.
Recounts in six races — U.S. Senate, governor, agriculture commissioner, three state legislative — won’t begin until Secretary of State Ken Detzner orders a recount later today — if they fall within a vote margin of 0.5 percent. The subsequent machine recount will last until Thursday. From there, those races that are within a margin of 0.25 percent will need a manual recount of ballots that either have too many candidates selected or none at all. With attorneys from both parties closely watching every ballot and the courts now involved, delays are possible.
On Friday, counties conducted reviews of provisional ballots to finalize unofficial results in a process that, while routine, can grow contentious under the circumstances. Meanwhile two counties, Palm Beach and Broward, continued to process a backlog of uncounted ballots, much to the dismay of Republicans, who have seen their share of the vote evaporate each day since the election.
Fueled by President Donald Trump tweets and unfounded claims of voter fraud, dozens of protesters gathered outside Broward’s elections headquarters Friday in a rowdy scene that led staff to call police for protection.
“We want her in handcuffs for her criminal history. We want her whole staff in handcuffs,” said Janet Klomburg, a 56-year-old from Weston, who was one of 100 activists protesting Broward’s supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes. “This race was stolen from us.”
Gov. Rick Scott, clinging to a 14,933-vote lead in his Senate race over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, has waged an all out war on the Broward and Palm Beach election offices. He has accused Demo-
crats there of trying to steal the election and of “rampant fraud,” calling for a state law enforcement investigation.
For its part, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it hasn’t received any allegations of voter fraud and is not currently investigating Broward County election officials.
Still, Scott won a lawsuit on Friday to force Snipes to turn over public records to his campaign. The slow, opaque rollout of election results from Broward — habitually problematic in its administering of elections — has enraged mainstream Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio, and created an atmosphere ripe for the fringes of the party and a motivated alt-right to further cast doubt on the outcome.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle congressman and a Trump ally, made an appearance outside Broward’s elections headquarters to call for the state to seize control of the office. He accused Snipes of making up votes to help Democrats win and repeatedly called her corrupt and incompetent.
“We cannot continue to allow this to be the Banana Republic of Broward,” he said.
The door to the office, where a canvassing-board meeting to review the last 250 provisional ballots was scheduled to begin, was guarded by a line of Lauderhill police. Initially, only attorneys were allowed in and reporters and protesters were kept outside.
On Twitter, Trump alleged corruption was in play and asserted that he was sending attorneys to South Florida. He falsely claimed that Nelson already conceded the race (he didn’t) and that only Democrats had seen their vote totals increase since Election Day.
“How come they never find Republican votes?” Trump tweeted.
It’s not true. In the Senate race, Scott has picked up more than 50,000 votes since Tuesday night; Nelson has added about 94,000. The ratio is similar to the breakdown of votes in the counties where the votes are still being counted. Counties have until noon today to count them.
The governor’s race has experienced similar narrowing and a recount is expected, however, the gap remains much wider. Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum by 36,084 votes.
Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried moved further ahead of Republican Matt Caldwell, with a 3,039-vote advantage as of Friday night. There will be a recount in that election, too.
Like Trump, Scott has alleged that officials in Broward and Palm Beach are “finding” votes to pad Democratic outcomes there, an explosive accusation that so far has not been met with any significant evidence.
“I’ve won this election once,” Scott said on Fox News Friday. “We’re going to have to go back through, it looks like, the court system to guarantee our win again.”
“I am the senator-elect,” Scott said, though no body has officially declared him to be.
Speaking for the first time since Tuesday, Nelson shot back that Scott is trying to keep all the votes from being tallied.
“He isn’t telling the truth,” Nelson said, “which is: Votes are not being found; they’re being counted.”
Meanwhile, Nelson sued the Florida secretary of state, demanding the state count all provisional and mail-in ballots deemed to have a signature mismatch.
The legal challenge confronts a Florida law that requires county election officials to double check signatures of voters who cast provisional and mail-in ballots, and reject any that don’t match state records.
Nelson’s recount lawyer Marc Elias said the law puts the onus of signature review in the hands of untrained, unqualified local election workers. It leads to the disqualification of legitimate ballots, he said, most often from minority communities.
“This results in a complete lack of uniformity,” Elias said. “Voters in one county are subject to one standard for reviewing signatures than others.”
The Tampa Bay Times has attempted to quantify how many mail-in ballots counties disqualified because of signature issues. It’s at least 785, though the Times is still awaiting response from dozens of local election offices.
Nelson’s lawsuit will go to a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida courtroom on Wednesday, a judge decided, meaning Nelson’s campaign failed in an attempt to delay the machine recount until the complaint was resolved.
Scott’s campaign called Nelson’s lawsuit an attempt to allow voter fraud.
Attorneys confer Friday as ballots are examined at the office of the Broward County supervisor of elections in Lauderhill, where protesters had gathered outside.