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.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY STEVE CON­TORNO Na­tional Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

Bill Nel­son

Rick Scott

New York Times

At­tor­neys con­fer Fri­day as bal­lots are ex­am­ined at the of­fice of the Broward County su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions in Lauder­hill, where protesters had gath­ered out­side.

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