FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) — With a recount all but certain in Florida’s U.S. Senate race, Republican Governor Rick Scott sued elections supervisors in two Democratic stronghold counties in South Florida Thursday night, claiming they’re illegally denying him a chance to oversee ballot counting.
Eager to trade in his term-limit-expired governorship for a Senate seat, Scott declared victory in his race against longtime incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson Tuesday night.
But as votes continued to be counted in Democratic-leaning Palm Beach and Broward counties through Thursday evening, Scott’s lead over Nelson dwindled from more than 60,000 to less than 16,000 votes. That’s below the 0.25-percent threshold in which a manual recount is mandated under Florida law.
Florida’s gubernatorial race between Democrat Andrew Gillum and avid Donald Trump-supporter Rick DeSantis also has tightened to less than the 0.5 percent margin that triggers a machine recount.
Scott filed two lawsuits after office hours Thursday, in Broward and Palm Beach counties, claiming he and his campaign are being shut out of the ballot review process there. With the second- and third-highest number of registered Democrats among Florida counties, Broward and Palm Beach are part of the densely populated Miami metropolitan area, upon which progressive candidates traditionally rely to offset votes from Republican-dominated swaths across the rest of the state.
In Palm Beach, Scott claims the county violated election law by denying his campaign a chance to review the processing of damaged mail-in ballots. He also claims election staff in Palm Beach are improperly handling decisions about “overvoted” and “undervoted” absentee ballots, which Scott says should be under the purview of the county canvassing board.
In Broward County, Scott claims Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes failed to provide him with absentee ballot information that his campaign requested under Florida’s Public Records Act.
Nelson responded to Scott’s claims in a statement that “the goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately.”
“Rick Scott’s action appears to be politically motivated and [born] out of desperation,” Nelson said.
(The Republican Party filed a similar lawsuit Wednesday in Arizona, where Election Day leader Martha McSally, a Republican, appeared to lead Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the race for retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat. But as absentee ballots were counted in the states three most populous counties, Maricopa, Pima and Coconino — homes to Democratic-leaning Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff — Republican parties in four counties sued all 15 county recorders to try to stop ballot verification.
(Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney refused to stop the count Wednesday, but set another hearing for 2 p.m. Friday. Early Friday, Sinema led McSally by 9,610 votes. The latest count in Florida Friday morning showed Scott leading Nelson by 15,175 votes.)
Nelson sent a message to supporters Thursday, telling them: “If you or anyone you know voted in Florida with a provisional ballot, you need to make sure that vote is counted: Contact your Supervisor of Elections office immediately before the 5 PM deadline.”
Scott, who is still Florida’s governor, said he is referring his allegations to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He appeared on Fox News with Sean Hannity Thursday evening, saying, “It is clear we got some left-wing activists, we got some Democratic D.C. lawyers coming down here for one purpose: to steal the election.
“I’m going to be the U.S. Senator,” he said. “We’re gonna fight this, and we’re going to win.”
The lawsuits in Florida and Arizona recalled the 2000 presidential election, when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively elected George W. Bush over Al Gore by stopping recounts and ballot verification in Florida.
The race between Nelson and Scott had turned vicious well before election night.
During their only debate, Nelson — a Vietnam veteran and politician-astronaut who’s been a staple on the Florida political scene since the 1970s — became visibly irate and groused that Scott was misleading the audience about Nelson’s record in Congress.
“Apparently. you never got your mouth washed out with soap after telling a lie,” Nelson said.
On the campaign trail, Nelson tried to blame Scott’s pro-development stance for nitrate pollution linked to the toxic algae crisis in Florida. He also attacked Scott’s time at the helm of hospital company Columbia/HCA during its late 1090s healthcare billing fraud scandal.
Scott — a veteran and former attorney like Nelson —portrayed the three-term incumbent as a foot-dragger, chronically unable to get things done in Congress.
On Thursday, when questioned by Local 10 News reporter Jeff Weinsier about the delayed tabulation of votes, Broward Elections Supervisor Snipes said she’s handling one of the most populous counties in the state, and that her staff worked 12-hour days for two weeks on end in hopes of getting the election right.
Local media reports have cited a high number of Broward ballots that are missing a vote for the Senate seat. The reportedly high blank-vote rate has been attributed to factors ranging from tabulation error to voters’ focus on ballot amendments rather than top-of-the-ticket seats.
Snipes previously drew scrutiny for a cluster of ballots that were missing a medical-marijuana-legalization amendment in 2016. A Broward County judge rejected a marijuana-advocacy group’s request for an injunction to rectify the error, finding that Snipes had addressed the issue, and that the complaint failed to demonstrate irreparable harm or a clear violation of voters’ rights.
Snipes was also named in a lawsuit filed by Democrat Tim Canova, who sought to examine ballots from a primary race he lost to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In the Canova case, a judge found that Snipes prematurely destroyed original ballots from the contest.
As for Palm Beach County, voters may remember it as the site of the notorious butterfly ballot snafu, one of a handful of election fiascos that garnered national attention in the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election.