Senate Campaign Tempers Flare as Florida Recount Proceeds

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – With his lead holding firm in the final stages of a Senate race recount in Florida, the campaign of Republican candidate Rick Scott lashed out at his Democratic opponent, calling three-term incumbent Bill Nelson an “angry bitter career politician” for not conceding his defeat.

After a machine recount that fell into the national spotlight wrapped up Thursday, Scott holds a .15 percent lead over Nelson in the Florida race for a U.S. Senate seat.

Under Florida law, the margin was tight enough to trigger a manual recount of ballots with anomalous or missing markings. The manual review of those votes is underway, slated for completion Sunday.

Scott, who has served as Florida’s governor for eight years, declared victory in the Senate race before the recount process had begun. His campaign continues to echo his claims that there was a fraudulent scheme at work to tamper with election results.

“It’s … become clear that Democrats will stop at nothing to count illegally cast ballots – because breaking or changing Florida election laws is the only way for them to get what they want, regardless of the will of the voters,” the Scott campaign claimed.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Thursday admonished Scott for spreading rumors of pervasive election fraud and making “baseless remarks about counties” where a majority of residents voted against him. Scott had insinuated that there was widespread fraud in Democratic-leaning Palm Beach and Broward counties, whose vote tallies in the two days following election night significantly trimmed Scott’s lead.

The judge stopped short of granting the plaintiffs’ demand for an injunction to bar Scott from participating in state election processes via his role as Florida governor. The case was brought by the political advocacy group League of Women Voters of Florida, which claimed Scott could use his powers as governor to affect the election outcome.

“Scott has toed the line between imprudent campaign-trail rhetoric and problematic state action. But he has not crossed the line,” the judge said.

Judge Walker, whose court in the Northern District of Florida has been inundated with election-related lawsuits, noted that Scott asked “but did not order” state law enforcement to investigate Palm Beach and Broward. Scott refrained from suspending election officials and “has not interfered with the recount so far,” the judge wrote.

Scott’s insinuations about rampant malfeasance, “though haphazard and reckless,” did not rise to the level of a constitutionally required recusal, the judge wrote.

Scott had already recused himself from the Elections Canvassing Commission before the judge’s decision was handed down.

Maintaining its claims of tampering in the electoral process, Scott’s campaign on Friday pointed to a report in the Naples Daily News, a southwest Florida outlet. The report describes how a Democratic field manager allegedly directed staffers to send altered versions of official ballot-curing applications to voters whose mail-in ballots had been rejected.

The applications, which allow voters to resolve signature-mismatch issues so that their votes can be counted, contained a swapped-out date for the submission deadline, making it appear later than it actually was.

The Democratic field manager has not publicly commented on how and why the forms were altered.

Pursuant to another order issued by Judge Walker, certain voters whose mail-in or provisional votes were rejected for purported signature mismatches have until Saturday at 5 pm to cure their ballots. Walker found that Florida’s handling of mail-in and provisional ballots was deficient and disenfranchised voters, and that those affected should accordingly have until the weekend to challenge ballot rejections.

He noted that under Florida law, the deadline for a voter to “cure” alleged signature mismatches on a mail-in ballot was the day before the election. So if the mail-in ballot was processed on election day and was deemed to have a signature issue, the voter would have little recourse to challenge the disqualification of his or her vote, the judge found.

Judge Walker issued a few additional, key orders in the past 24 hours. One rejected Nelson’s request for an extension to the machine recount deadline. Another denied Nelson’s request to void Florida’s rules governing how local canvassing boards decide a voter’s intent when evaluating unclear ballot markings during the manual recount.

A labyrinth of litigation over the election is still pending across Florida. Last week, Scott secured early victories in state court battles in South Florida, where he convinced a circuit court that the Palm Beach County Canvassing board had not been provided with anomalously marked mail-in votes for review.

The race had been vehemently contentious since its early stages, with Scott portraying Nelson as a foot-dragger who did little for his constituents during his three Senate terms. Nelson tried to link Scott’s pro-development stance as governor to nitrate pollution that’s blamed for a toxic algae crisis in South Florida waterways.

Both men are law-school graduates and military veterans.

Meanwhile in the race for governor, Republican Ron DeSantis holds a comfortable lead over Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum. According to the Florida Division of Elections, DeSantis, an avid supporter of President Donald Trump, leads by a .41 percent margin.

Thursday night, media coverage nationwide lasered in on the Florida machine-recount deadline, as some counties raced to wrap up.

Palm Beach County admittedly failed to meet the deadline, so, under Florida law, its pre-recount tally from last weekend is likely to be used in the official results. Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher blamed outdated equipment for delays in the tally.

Recount results from Broward and Hillsborough counties stand to be tossed out as well, and supplanted with last weekend’s tallies. Broward completed the recount on time, but its results were rejected by the State of Florida because its data upload came in roughly two minutes after the 3 pm cutoff, according to a Sun Sentinel report. Hillsborough County said Thursday that its recount was completed on time but that it declined to submit the results because of a more-than 800 vote discrepancy between the new and old vote tallies.

Broward County’s high level of “undervotes” in the Senate race, i.e. a missing vote on a voter’s ballot, has spawned speculation that the county poorly designed the ballot, placing the race at the bottom left corner.

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