Florida’s Disputed Elections Hit Courtrooms as Recounts Near

(CN) – The battle over Florida’s disputed election results deepened Friday with a flurry of lawsuits and emergency hearings held in courtrooms in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

On Friday afternoon, Broward County Judge Lisa Phillips ordered the county supervisor of elections to provide Governor Rick Scott’s attorneys with the number of ballots cast, counted and left to be counted. Snipes has until Friday evening to comply.

“This is information that should already been compiled, already in the system,” Phillips said in her ruling. “And if it is not already in the system, that’s a whole other issue that has not been brought up in this court. It should be there. It should not slow down the proceedings.”

In addition to lawsuits filed by Scott, Senator Bill Nelson brought his own suit in North Florida federal court to count all provisional ballots, even if voters’ signatures did not match. Florida law holds that a voter’s signature on a provisional ballot must match the signature given at the time of voter registration.

Scott filed a lawsuit against the two heavily Democratic counties seeking to stop the continued counting of votes in the U.S. Senate race Thursday night.

As of Friday morning, election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties still have not finished tabulating votes cast early or mailed-in. The new totals coming in days after election night narrowed Scott’s lead over Senate incumbent Bill Nelson by tens of thousands of votes.

The counties must submit their unofficial results by Saturday afternoon.

As of Friday, Scott has approximately 15,000 more votes than Nelson – a difference of 0.18 percent, which will trigger a recount.

In a press conference Thursday night, Scott accused election officials, Nelson and “left-wing activists” of trying to steal the election.

“The people of Florida deserve fairness and they deserve transparency and the supervisor of elections is refusing to give it to us,” he said. “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida.”

The governor also asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate “rampant fraud.”

“No ragtag group of liberal activists or lawyers from D.C. will be allowed to steal this election from the voters of this great state,” he added.

In the lawsuit against Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, Scott’s attorneys were more nuanced. They sought to use the state’s public records law to inspect the ballots in the counties’ custody.

“Two days after voting has concluded, the supervisor of elections is unwilling to disclose records revealing how many electors voted, how many ballots have been canvassed and how many ballots remain to be canvassed,” the lawsuit states. “The lack of transparency raises substantial concerns about the validity of the election process.”

In the lawsuit against Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, Scott claims election officials refused to allow the candidate’s representatives to view the processing of damaged absentee ballots.

Nelson campaign defended the continued counting of votes in a statement.

“The goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately,” campaign spokesperson Dan McLaughlin said. “Rick Scott’s action appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation.”

The possibility of tens of thousands of uncounted ballots caught the attention of the Democratic candidate for governor, Andrew Gillum, who conceded to former Republican congressman Ron DeSantis on Tuesday night.

Gillum’s campaign released a statement on Thursday, signaling they are watching the new totals closely. Currently, DeSantis has about 36,000 more votes than Gillum – a margin of 0.44 percent.

In a tweet Thursday night, Gillum rebuked Scott, saying “counting votes isn’t partisan – it’s democracy.”

President Donald Trump also weighed in with his own tweet about “another big corruption scandal having to do with election fraud in Broward and Palm Beach.”

Nelson and Gillum already hired attorneys to help them through the recount process. Some of those attorneys represented former vice president Al Gore and former president George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election recount.

Races closer than 0.50 percent automatically trigger a machine recount, according to the Department of Elections. For races under a 0.25 percent margin, like the Senate contest, a much more arduous manual recount is ordered.

In addition, several counties have not counted provisional ballots or those sent in by military personnel serving overseas. Voters who used provisional ballots lean Democratic while military men and women tend to vote Republican.

Most political analysts say the Senate race is still too close to call and Gillum has only a slight chance of edging ahead of DeSantis.

Of course, Florida is no stranger to recounts. The state earned the ire of the nation in the 2000 presidential campaign when a recount led to the infamous Supreme Court decision that gave the presidency to George W. Bush.

Slow vote tallies in Broward and Palm Beach counties were at the center of that election, too.

“There is always this question on what the heck is taking Broward so long,” said Kathryn DePalo, who teaches in Florida International University’s Department of Politics and International Relations.

The Broward County resident managed several political campaigns in South Florida over the years and has broad knowledge of elections procedures. She said several factors may have led to the county’s slow vote counting.

Florida’s elections are decentralized with each county’s supervisor of elections deciding their processes, such as whether to offer electronic or paper ballots. In addition, Broward County had 11 charter amendments on an already long ballot full of constitutional amendment proposals. Add to that, the county is one of the most populous in the state.

The design of the county’s ballot may have also confused voters, DePalo said.

The Senate race was at the bottom of the first column under the ballot’s instructions, while the governor’s race was at the top of the second column. That could account for the disparity between votes cast for each race, which Nelson’s attorneys have pounced on as evidence of “undervoting.”

“The sad part is that was never the intention,” she said. “It was never meant to hide it or make it complicated. It’s one of those things that just happened.”

DePalo said this election process could drag out for several weeks. In 2000, the recount only consisted of four counties. The impending recount will encompass all of Florida’s 67 counties.

“We are in it for the long haul and the court filings are just starting,” she said. “Every little ballot is going to nitpicked … This could go to January.”

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