ORLANDO, Fla. — A Broward County judge Monday denied Rick Scott’s request that he order deputies to “impound and secure” all voting equipment when not being used to recount ballots.
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As part of a deal between attorneys representing Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson, there will be at least three additional deputies on site at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections building in Lauderhill to help oversee what has become a controversial handling of ballots.
Scott and Nelson are locked in a bitter and narrow race for the U.S. Senate seat. It’s one of three races now in a manual recount mode, as ordered by Secretary of State Ken Detzner. The other two races are Florida Governor and Florida Agriculture Commissioner.
In deciding not to rule in Scott’s favor, Circuit Judge Jack Tuter did give a warning to the courtroom full of attorneys: Tone down the political rhetoric.
“We need to be careful what we say — these words mean things these days,” Judge Tuter said. “Ramp down the rhetoric, if someone in this lawsuit or someone in this county has evidence of voter fraud or irregularities at the supervisor’s office, they should report it to a local law enforcement officer.”
During a late night campaign press conference Thursday at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, Scott told reporters that Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher were committing “fraud” and “trying to steal the election.”
The accusations of fraud continued in a series of appearances over the weekend, including when Scott was on FOX News Sunday.
A spokeswoman with Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirms the agency is not investigating, nor is aware of any allegations or evidence of election fraud anywhere in the state.
“There’s a lot of recounting mania, but the truth is, the law is far (clearer) nowadays than it was in 2000 in the Bush v. Gore debacle,” said recently reelected Democrat Congressman Darren Soto of Kissimmee. “It’s more of the political flare-ups that’s the drama right now.”
Republican supporters have been quick to claim victory in even the narrowest of races, while Democrats are pushing back in courts of law and courts of public opinion in their effort to ensure all votes are counted.
“I am prepared to accept whatever the outcome is of this election, so long as every vote in this process is counted,” Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum said Saturday after withdrawing his election night concession.
Former Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis is poised to become Florida’s 46th Governor, maintaining a 33,684 vote (0.41 percent) lead in the race over Gillum.
Friday, DeSantis released a video statement saying he is focused on transition efforts.
Scott leads the U.S. Senate race by a far smaller margin, just 12,562 votes or .015 percent. A second recount may be required if the current recount produces the same results.
Florida statute requires a mandatory machine recount if the winner of a race wins by a margin of 0.50 percent or less. If the recount results are then 0.25 percent or smaller, a second hand recount is to be done.
“How long it will take us nobody knows, it will take us until we’re done,” said Bill Cowles, Orange County Supervisor of Elections. “We run ballots through and get totals for each precinct and verify it matches where other ballots come into play.”
Overcounts and Undercounts
Overcounts and undercounts could be crucial in hand recounts.
Overcounts: “Canvassing board will look at it because voter puts an X over one oval or provides a note to this one, so they’re showing voter intent, and that’s what the canvassing board will have to look at,” Cowles said.
As for undercounts: “Sometimes a voter circles a candidate’s name or puts a check mark and scanners can not see those, or other marks they only look at the column where the oval is.”
Republicans have been quick to draw the races where they are, while Democrats say every vote should be card and then the end results can be as they are.
“The issue with emailed ballots in the Panhandle as well as whether voters were undercounted, and then there’s this signature issue before federal courts. Any of these things could flip this thing one way or the other,” Soto said.
Soto said he believes the U.S. Senate and Florida Agriculture Commissioner races are the most likely to see dramatic change after one or two recounts.
Democrats have complained that not all qualified ballots are being counted.
Former Democrat Congressman Patrick Murphy took to Twitter last week saying he was notified that his vote-by-mail ballot was tossed out because the signature on the envelope did not match the signature on file with the state.
There are also reports that at least one supervisor of elections in the Florida panhandle accepted an unknown number of ballots by email, which is illegal.
Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order extending early voting windows for voters in the Panhandle after it was devastated by Hurricane Michael, but the executive order did not allow submitting ballots by fax or email.
“The Florida Department of State has received reports that Bay County Supervisor of Elections allowed some voters to return their ballots via email and fax,” Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell said. “Supervisors of Elections are independently elected constitutional officers and it is each Supervisors’ responsibility to adhere to the law at all times.”
Nelson Calls for Recusal
While Scott’s campaign has a series of lawsuits pending in courts in South Florida, Bill Nelson’s team filed an additional lawsuit Monday asking that ballots mailed and postmarked prior to Election Day still be accepted and counted.
Attorney Marc Elias filed the suit Monday on behalf of Nelson, arguing that not counting the votes would disenfranchise voters because delivery delays are the fault of the United States Postal Service, not the voters themselves.
Nelson took it a step further, demanding Scott recuse himself from any official matter related to the election process.
“One fact is that Rick Scott isn’t interested in making sure every lawful vote is counted,” Nelson said in a video released Monday.
“The second is that he’s using his power as governor to try to undermine the voting process. He’s thrown around words like “voter fraud” without any proof. He’s stood on the steps of the governor’s mansion and tried to use the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the Broward elections chief…the reason he’s doing these things is obvious: he’s worried when all the votes are counted, he’ll lose the election," Nelson added.
Nelson’s comments came one day after Scott appeared on FOX News Sunday, where he accused Nelson and county supervisors of elections of fraudulent and illegal behavior.
“Let’s get this election finished,” Scott said. “Let’s make sure that she (Broward SoE Brenda Snipes) complies with the law. Let’s make sure the Florida Department of Law Enforcement does an investigation. I’ve asked all the sheriffs who have the authority to do this to be very vigilant with this. We have 7,500 volunteers willing to go in, but, Bill Nelson is a sore loser. Uh, we’ve won. I’ll have won this election twice now.”
Scott, declaring victory before the end of the recount, is expected in Washington, D.C. Tuesday to participate in a Senate new member orientation.