The Slatest

Florida Enmeshed in Lawsuits, Baseless Accusations of Fraud, and Incomplete Vote Counts

Rick Scott speaking on election night
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks on election night flanked by his wife, Ann Scott, and daughter Alison Guimard in Naples, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Amid Florida’s continued vote counting Friday afternoon, Republicans Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott held narrow leads for governor and the Senate respectively, although their margins are both within the 0.5 percentage point threshold for a machine recount. Scott’s lead over Sen. Bill Nelson is, according to the Florida secretary of state’s website, is slightly more than 15,000, or a margin of 0.18 percentage points, which is within the 0.25 percentage point threshold for a hand recount. Scott’s lead earlier had been around 35,000 votes, or just under 0.5 percentage points.

That total could narrow, however, because all of the votes counted in Broward County, a South Florida county that’s a Democratic stronghold, have not been reported by the secretary of state, the Miami Herald reported. Broward’s election website says that early votes are only “partially recorded.”

There are a number of lawsuits already filed by both sides over the counting process. Both Scott and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed suit against Broward County’s top election official, Brenda Snipes, claiming that she had violated Florida’s public record laws by not giving full counts of how many ballots had been cast and are yet to be counted. A hearing is scheduled for Friday afternoon, the Herald reported. Scott also sued election officials in Palm Beach, another Democratic-leaning county in South Florida. Broward County has had years of problems with elections, including destroying some paper ballots in a 2016 congressional primary after making copies of them and, the same year, not listing a ballot initiative on some absentee ballots.

Neither Scott nor any other Republicans have pointed to specific malfeasance in this election, let alone evidence of fraud, beyond the slow vote count. In fact, the most significant and clear error by Broward County election officials—designing a ballot that may have led more than 20,000 voters in an overwhelmingly Democratic congressional district to not vote in the Senate race at all—almost certainly benefited Scott.

Nonetheless, Scott has openly suggested the officials were attempting to fraudulently win the election for Nelson. “Every Floridian should be concerned there may be rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward Counties,” he said Thursday night.

The Nelson campaign has filed its own lawsuit against Florida’s secretary of state to try to enjoin election officials from rejecting mail-in ballots and provisional ballots “on the basis of a standardless signature matching process.” Florida state law requires officials to match signatures on mail-in and provisional ballots against existing state records in order to include the ballot in the vote.

The Nelson campaign’s suit said the process is ”standardless, inconsistent, and unreliable” and leads to “disproportionate rejection of VBM [vote by mail] and provisional ballots cast by ethnic and racial minorities, as well as young, first-time voters.” They also asked for the Saturday deadline to be extended. The Scott campaign characterized the lawsuit as “ask[ing]the federal courts to allow voter fraud.”

The counties must conclude their unofficial counts by noon Saturday before the Florida secretary of state can determine what, if any, recounts are required. Some Democrats are worried that Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was appointed by Scott, might drag his feet in ordering and conducting recounts so that they’re not completed by the state’s deadline on Nov. 15 for a machine recount or Nov. 18 for a hand recount.

Update, Nov. 9, 4:40pm: The courts and law enforcement responded to two of Rick Scott’s legal gambits Friday. First, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that it was not investigating any potential voter fraud in Broward County nor had it been requested to. Scott had said Thursday night he was asking the state law enforcement agency to investigate potentially “rampant fraud.” The department said in a statement to the Sun Sentinel, “Right now, FDLE is working with the Florida Department of State and will investigate any allegations of criminal activity or fraud. We do not have an active investigation at this time.”

Scott was more successful in another action: his lawsuit against Broward County to get its election officials to more fully comply with public records laws, specifically releasing how many mail-in ballots the office has counted and has in total. The elections supervisor, Brenda Snipes, has been accused of sloppy and potentially illegal behavior before, and many prominent Republicans in Florida and nationally, including Marco Rubio and Donald Trump, have raised the specter, without evidence, of massive fraud by Snipes to help provide more votes for Nelson in a heavily Democratic area. There was even a rally outside Snipes’ office on Friday, with protesters shouting, “Lock her up.”