WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - Sheriff’s deputies and dozens of volunteer monitors kept close watch over vote-counting Tuesday in an out-of-the-way West Palm Beach warehouse, a fulcrum point in the ongoing Senate and gubernatorial race recounts.
In the wake of GOP Senate candidate Rick Scott’s claims of election tampering in Florida, tensions were high at the local ballot-processing warehouse. Three deputies from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office paced near a drearily lit vote-counting area while a line of spectators snaked around the security barrier.
Lawn chairs – the portable sort that you see at concert venues -- were set up in front of the voting machines.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told press that her staff is working “around the clock” to meet a Thursday deadline to complete the recount. She claimed that outdated equipment, which requires ballots to be run through separately for each race, is slowing the tabulation process.
Democratic-leaning Broward and Palm Beach, the second- and third-most populous counties in the state, are in the national spotlight after their delayed election results triggered dropoffs in Republican candidates’ leads over their opponents.
As the counties continued to count votes in the two days that followed the midterm election, Scott’s lead over three-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson diminished from more than 60,000 votes to less than 16,000, triggering a recount.
The race for the governorship between avid Trump-supporter Ron DeSantis and Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum is likewise under a recount order. DeSantis maintains a thin lead.
Rick Scott’s campaign in the meantime is already dubbing him “Senator-elect.”
“Governor Scott won the election by a margin that is mathematically impossible to close without fraud and Bill Nelson can decline a recount at any time,” the Scott campaign said in a statement.
The campaign on Tuesday taunted a Democratic senate election committee and its attorney Mark Elias.
“From desperate spin to laughable lawsuits, we’ve heard more from Mark Elias in the past three days than most Floridians have heard from Bill Nelson in years. But hey, whatever helps pile up those billable hours!” the Scott campaign said.
Election observer Brenda Macedo, a local school teacher, said in an interview that she has not volunteered for election monitoring in the past. She signed up as a monitor this time around after hearing reports of mail-in ballot deliveries being held-up.
"I think all the votes should be counted, no matter how long it takes," she said.
Macedo said she is not embarrassed that Palm Beach County’s election process is back in national focus eighteen years after the infamous butterfly-ballot design snafu during the 2000 presidential election.
"I'm not embarrassed at all. I think it's now a problem with the state not issuing the necessary voting machines," she said.
Macedo said she approved of some of Rick Scott’s decisions during his two terms as Florida governor, such as his signing more restrictive gun regulations into law following the Parkland high school massacre. But Scott's inflammatory insinuations of fraud in the election process have turned her altogether sour, she said.
“If he ever did anything good ... it was all demolished by the last couple of weeks. His behavior has been abominable," Macedo said.
Both sides of the senate race are filing an avalanche of lawsuits in connection with the election.
Although Scott and Pres. Donald Trump have been purveying allegations of election fraud in media statements, the actual court pleadings don’t make accusations quite that sprawling.
Scott's lawsuits are instead largely centered on purported noncompliance with election law deadlines. Scott for instance recently sought an emergency order to set aside any ballots that were submitted for canvassing by Broward County after a Saturday deadline for counties' vote-count reports.
In another case, Scott sought to impound voting machines and ballots from Broward and Palm Beach. The parties in the Broward leg of that civil case eventually agreed to an increased presence of law enforcement at vote-counting facilities, in lieu of ballot "impounding," the Tampa Bay Times reported.
According to the Scott campaign, early victories in Scott's litigation include a court order directing the Broward elections supervisor to comply with the campaign's demand for vote count information.
In Palm Beach, court records show, a judge granted the Scott campaign’s request that certain absentee ballots with “overvotes” and "undervotes" be reviewed by the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board.
While Scott’s litigation attack is centered in South Florida state courts, the Democratic party has been filing aggressive litigation in North Florida federal court. The Democratic National Committee filed its first case last week, challenging an allegedly unreliable signature-matching process that's used to verify provisional ballots.
A Monday complaint filed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee asked a federal judge to extend a cutoff date for receipt of vote-by-mail ballots. The committee wants mail-in ballots received within ten days of the election to be counted. (Generally, with the exception of overseas voters, Florida law dictates that vote-by-mail ballots were only to be counted if they were received by the close of polls on election day.)
Yet another piece of litigation was filed by the committee Tuesday, seeking to push back the statewide recount deadlines.
The pleading seeks an order "declaring that all counties in Florida must be afforded an opportunity to complete the machine and manual recount processes."
On Tuesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released a joint statement that any credible reports of fraud in the election will be investigated.
“FDLE has been in continuous contact with the Department of State and we continue to work jointly. As allegations are received, FDLE will continue to vet and review those that may be indicative of criminal activity,” the statement reads.
Two days earlier, Bondi had publicly admonished the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for indicating to reporters that it had no active fraud investigation arising from the election.
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