Florida bal­lots un­der re­view

Process of check­ing bal­lots in two close races con­tin­ues ahead of Sat­ur­day dead­line

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Terry Spencer The As­so­ci­ated Press

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 Sat­ur­day whether there will be re­counts in the bit­ter and 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 County. 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.

On Fri­day, he led by 0.21 per­cent­age point, low enough to re­quire a re­count.

A re­count is manda­tory if the win­ning can-

di­date’s mar­gin is less than 0.5 per­cent­age points when the first un­of­fi­cial count is ver­i­fied Sat­ur­day by Florida’s sec­re­tary of state. And 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.

While the Florida De­part­ment of Law En­force­ment said Fri­day there had been no al­le­ga­tions of fraud, Scott asked — but did not or­der — the agency to in­ves­ti­gate the coun­ties’ elec­tions de­part­ments for pos­si­ble fraud. A spokes­woman for the agency said there was no ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The gover­nor, mean­while, filed law­suits in both coun­ties seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion on how their bal­lots were be­ing tal­lied.

Nel­son lawyer Mar Elias shot back at Scott for us­ing his of­fi­cial po­si­tion to try to in­flu­ence the elec­tion.

“He him­self said that as bal­lots are be­ing counted, it is tight­en­ing. Then he made some veiled threat or sug­ges­tion that he was some­how go­ing to in­volve law en­force­ment,” Elias said. This is not a third world dic­ta­tor­ship.

“We do not let peo­ple seize bal­lots when they think they’re los­ing.”

Nel­son filed his own fed­eral law­suit Fri­day, seek­ing to post­pone the Sat­ur­day dead­line to sub­mit un­of­fi­cial elec­tion re­sults.

Scott’s cam­paign man­ager Jackie Schutz Zeck­man shot back: “They aim to dis­en­fran­chise law abid­ing Florida vot­ers by pro­duc­ing bal­lots out of thin air un­til they have enough to win.

In Riviera Beach, the Palm Beach County Can­vass­ing Board met Fri­day morn­ing to re­view “anoma­lous” bal­lots not yet counted be­cause of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties that pre­vented a ma­chine-read­ing.

Those in­cluded in­stances where a voter might have over-voted, try­ing to cross out a choice and in­di­cat­ing a pre­ferred one with an ar­row.

The Broward County Can­vass­ing Board was to meet in the early af­ter­noon, and about 30 Repub­li­can pro­test­ers had gath­ered out­side by mid­day.

“Don’t steal our elec­tion!” they shouted in chants al­ter­nated with songs in­clud­ing “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” and recit­ing of the Pledge of Al­le­giance.

Broward County has a trou­bled elec­tion his­tory and its county’s elec­tion su­per­vi­sor, Brenda Snipes — an ap­pointee of Repub­li­can Gov. Jeb Bush — has been at the cen­ter of sev­eral con­tro­ver­sies.

Among other things, a 2016 law­suit by Tim Canova, a chal­lenger to Demo­cratic Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz, sought to in­spect phys­i­cal bal­lots only to dis­cover Snipes’ of­fice had de­stroyed the orig­i­nals but kept dig­i­tal copies. Even­tu­ally a judge ruled that the law had been vi­o­lated.

In the race for gover­nor, DeSan­tis was lead­ing by 0.47 per­cent­age points. While that mar­gin, if it holds, would re­quire a re­count, DeSan­tis has mostly stayed out of the fray, say­ing he was work­ing on plans for tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary. Gil­lum, who had con­ceded Tues­day night be­fore DeSan­tis’ mar­gin nar­rowed, now says his cam­paign is pre­par­ing for a re­count.

A third state-wide 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 483-vote lead — a mar­gin of 0.006 per­cent.

In 2000, Broward and Palm Beach each played cen­tral roles in the BushGore 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.

But Palm Beach was also the home to the in­fa­mous “but­ter­fly bal­lot” that many Democrats be­lieve cost Gore the elec­tion. The county’s then-elec­tions su­per­vi­sor, Demo­crat Theresa LePore, wanted to make the 10 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ names big­ger on the bal­lot so se­nior cit­i­zens could read them. In­stead of list­ing them in one col­umn, she broke the names into two columns. In the left were Bush, Gore and four mi­nor party can­di­dates — six lines in to­tal. On the right were five lines — four mi­nor party can­di­dates and a space for a write-in.

That meant there was no can­di­date op­po­site Bush, but to the right of Gore was the ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive Re­form Party can­di­date Pat Buchanan, who got 3,407 votes in the county — many of them prob­a­bly in­tended for Gore, an­a­lysts said.

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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