Jacob Ogles, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 41

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

Nikki Fried clings to recount lead; Matt Caldwell alleges Broward counted late ballots

Attorneys for Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell say Broward County collected and counted thousands of votes after the election was over.

That’s enough to chip at or even erase Democrat Nikki Fried’s current lead. Results from a statewide recount show the Democratic candidate leading Caldwell by 5,307 votes, a slightly narrower lead than the 5,326-vote gap reported in the initial tabulation of the race.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered a statewide manual recount of the election. The margin between candidates represents 0.06 percent of more than 8 million votes cast, well within the 0.25-percent trigger for a hand recount.

Caldwell’s legal team sued last week for records from Broward County, the seeming ground zero for Florida’s latest statewide recount news extravaganza. Those records were only turned over last night at 8 p.m.

The records showed more than 17,000 vote-by-mail ballots came in on Election Day or after, said Caldwell attorney George LeMieux. Of those, 6,873 did not get logged until after 7 p.m., after polls closed.

“If they come in after 7, they are not a valid vote,” LeMieux said. “To count them after 7 p.m. would be breaking the law.”

The Agriculture Commissioner contest remains the closest of three statewide elections forced to machine recount this year, and the margin between Fried and Caldwell appears likely to tighten based on reports of recount results.

Miami Herald reporter Alex Harris reports the recount in Broward County produced a decline in Caldwell and Fried’s totals, with Fried’s dropping by 765 votes from the first tabulation.

Caldwell on Nov. 6 declared victory in the race at a time when he led by more than 40,000 votes statewide. He told Florida Politics he believed at the time his lead over Fried was insurmountable.

But late tabulations, mostly from heavily Democratic Broward and Palm Beach counties, chipped at that lead over the next two days, and Fried ultimately pulled ahead last Thursday.

Fried’s own team has decried Caldwell’s legal challenges as “false and specious.” They say any assertion of voter fraud on Caldwell’s part “smacks of desperation.”

“All Supervisors of Elections are legally obligated to count all the votes and certify the tabulation by the Saturday following the election,” said Fried attorney Ben Kuehne. “There has been no evidence of fraud and any votes that were legally cast should count. Florida has no place for misleading complaints raised by losing candidates.”

Rick Scott wants to stop a recount he’s winning. That’s silly. Here’s why.

Even as a recount netted Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott votes, he continued to call on Democratic opponent Bill Nelson to somehow stop the process.

“With over two-thirds of the machine recount completed, our margin of victory has grown,” Scott tweeted today. “It’s time for @SenBillNelson to end this recount.”

Scott spokesman Chris Hartline said with all counties reporting recount results, Scott’s campaign netted votes statewide. Recount results released by the Division of Elections verify the gap between Scott and Nelson grew by 41 votes.

“Bill Nelson and the liberal groups backing him have filed lawsuits to disregard Florida law and count unlawful ballots,” Hartline said in a statement.

“When the machine recount is complete this afternoon, Nelson will have to decide if he wants to preserve his legacy and go out with dignity or if he wants to forever be remembered as the guy that liberal interest groups used in an effort to win the presidential election two years early.”

Of course, a federal judge today decreed a deadline of 3 p.m. today would stand on recounts, even though it’s unclear Palm Beach County will be done in time. Counties had to submit numbers at 3 p.m. today.

In fact, even in Democratic Orange County, the first urban county to complete its recount, Nelson actually saw his local lead dwindle down by a net 25 votes from the original tabulation. That won’t help close the 12,562-vote lead Scott held as of the Saturday deadline for counties to submit an initial count.

But why that would urge Nelson to call on an end to the recount when a third of counties could still report votes that assist his hopes of re-election to the U.S. Senate remains utterly unclear.

First off, Florida law requires a machine recount in the event of an election with less than a 0.5 percent margin. The difference in the Scott-Nelson contest was 0.15 percent.

And as long as the margin remains less than 0.25 percent, likely considering the miniscule motion reported in counties already done with their recount, the law also requires a manual count of under- and overvotes.

In particular, Nelson’s chance of closing the gap relies heavily on results from Broward County, which completed its recount today ahead of deadline. It’s unclear if the results were included in Hartline’s calculations of a 76-vote Scott gain, but if so, that means Nelson didn’t pick up a net of several thousand his camp hoped would come from a machine recalibration.

The biggest statistical question mark in the Senate recount in particular involves the fact that Broward elections officials counted 24,992 fewer votes for U.S. Senate than for Governor. That’s caused some to speculate if bad ballot design led voters there to overlook the Senate contest.

Marc Elias, Nelson chief recount attorney, has brushed off that possibility. Instead, he hopes to find machines wrongly counted a disproportionate number of undervotes in the county. The machine recount didn’t remedy the problem, but that means all those ballots counted for the moment as blank Senate votes go into a pile for inspection during a hand recount.

Especially with the machine recount producing few results for the Nelson team, this batch of votes continues to hold the greatest promise of closing the gap, though thousands of new ballots still left to be counted after a judge’s ruling in Nelson’s favor today could also help.

But taking as optimistic a view as possible for Nelson’s prospects right now, things still don’t look good.

Those ballots being counted following the judge’s ruling come from all over the state. That means they could break evenly between Scott and Nelson.

And today marks the deadline as well for overseas and military ballots to come to elections offices, votes which typically break for the GOP.

Nelson desperately needs a hand recount to move forward, if only in hopes that the Broward County undervotes somehow have marks in bubbles after all. That’s a Democratic county so those ballots should break his way. His legal team is rolling the dice on opening pretty much any other ballots in the state, including those arriving at elections offices after Nov. 6, but there’s no reason to think any other pot of votes will help his totals and not Scott’s.

Which begs the question, why is Scott so intent on stopping the count anyway? He most likely will be Florida’s next U.S. senator, and double-checking the math ultimately helps firm up the credibility of whoever holds office the next six years.

To stop the recount now, when it remains so close, means leaving tens of thousands of ballots in Democratic-leaning counties uninspected.

Normally, its those who lose elections who spent the coming weeks calling into question the integrity of the vote. This year, it’s been Rick Scott calling the race fraudulent. Why the likely winner would work so hard to question the integrity of a vote may be a question that follows Scott through his entire Senate term.

Only Bay County accepted fax, email ballots, elections officials confirm

Bay County’s Supervisor of Elections stood alone in Florida when he allowed voters displaced by Hurricane Michael to cast ballots by email and fax.

But while no other officials took the compassionate but clearly illegal course of action, more than one questioned why the state prohibited elections officials from accepting votes electronically under the circumstances.

“My displaced voters unfortunately just had the option for sending ballots in the mail,” said John Hanlon, Gulf County Supervisor of Elections. “But I absolutely wanted to do it.”

“It” was to allow limited voting using the same verification procedures for displaced voters that Florida elections officials use now for military and overseas voters.

Hanlon, in fact, suggested making that option available to displaced voters in a draft hurricane response plan, and he lobbied the Division of Elections on the matter, but the step failed to win approval so he did not follow through.

Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen told Florida Politics on Monday he allowed more than 140 voters to vote this way, with 10 verifying their identity through email and the rest via fax.

What’s called the UOCAVA method has been in place for years and can be used to validate military and overseas ballots as many as 10 days after an election.

But typical domestic voters must get physical ballots to elections officials by mail or by hand before polls close on the day of an election.

After Hurricane Michael this year devastated the Panhandle, an executive order by Gov. Rick Scott and a hurricane plan announced by Secretary of State Ken Detzner granted election supervisors in eight storm-struck counties significant flexibility in executing the election, including extending early voting hours and establishing mega-polling places for voters from a number of precincts.

Detzner’s plan specifically stated email and fax voting would not be allowed. And after the election, Department of State officials made clear supervisors of elections were required to enforce and adhere to the law.

The action may have gone unnoticed but for an unprecedented three statewide recounts taking place for U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner.

Gadsden County elections officials in an email to Florida Politics said only typical UOCAVA voters were allowed to vote by fax, not those displaced by the storm.

Sylvia Stephens, Jackson County Supervisor of Elections, said the UOCAVA plan wasn’t offered as an option for storm-displaced voters, so she didn’t offer it up. Had a displaced voter reached out to her about voting this way, Stephens said she would have allowed it, at least if the call came on Election Day.

“You err on the side of the voter, but you also want to follow the law,” Stephens said.

The occasion never arose in Jackson County for Stephens to make a decision on allowing a displaced voter to cast a ballot by fax or email.

She did confirm county elections supervisors worked closely together to make sure National Guard members, first responders and even storm recovery volunteers outside of their home counties got to vote. But officials used a process specifically outlined in Scott’s executive order.

Those voters provided supervisors in the counties they were in with information on their home county and precinct, then their home supervisors emailed the appropriate ballot to elections offices. Officials then printed ballots, then couriered those back to the home county.

But those ballots, while sent electronically, were filled out on paper, returned physically and included similar to vote-by-mail ballots. Elections officials could take the ballot printed elsewhere and duplicate the votes onto proper ballots for local machines, but that had to be done in front of a canvassing board.

Wakulla Supervisor of Elections Buddy Wells said ultimately, no residents in his county were displaced out of the county, at least not to his knowledge.

And Calhoun County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Chason, like Hanlon, ruled out allowing fax or email ballots to come in after the executive order prohibited the practice. But she defended Andersen.

“I don’t feel he did anything wrong,” she said, “but no, we did not do that.”

Mark Earley, Leon County Supervisor of Elections, previously confirmed he had talked with Andersen about using the UOCAVA procedure with displaced voters.

Liberty County elections officials did not accept any email or fax ballots this way.

And supervisors in Franklin and Washington counties told the Tampa Bay Times no displaced voters were allowed there to vote by fax or email.

Andersen had said he believed other Panhandle supervisors has similarly used the process this way, but Florida Politics in reaching out to all counties under the Governor’s executive order and neighboring counties impacted by the storm found only Andersen followed through with accepting ballots by email and fax.

Hanlon noted, though, that Bay County largely took the brunt of the storm,

“We were hit very hard, but Mark was hit as hard if not harder, and he has a much larger voter base,” Hanlon said. “He has 120,000 voters. I have 10,000. Ultimately, it’s up to the supervisor how to look out for voters.”

Matt Caldwell doesn’t want to win recount by ‘legal loophole’

Republican Matt Caldwell says he thought it was mathematically impossible for him to lose the Florida Agriculture Commissioner race when he declared victory a week ago. He was up 40,000 votes and believed about five Broward County precincts and a maximum 33,000 votes remained untabulated.

Now he’s 5,326 votes behind Democrat Nikki Fried and wants to know how that happened.

“I think voters deserve a straight answer,” Caldwell said. “Where did 80,000 votes come from?”

The closing gap has prompted tremendous speculation on social media, where Republicans push the hashtag #StopTheSteal relentlessly. Caldwell’s campaign has sued for records explaining the source of votes, though authorities maintain say they were simply dutifully counting votes as fast as possible.

Fried’s legal team smells sour grapes in Caldwell’s legal complaint.

“The false and specious lawsuit by our opponent smacks of desperation,” said Fried attorney Ben Kuehne.

“Florida law is clear—all Supervisors of Elections are legally obligated to count all the votes and certify the tabulation by the Saturday following the election. There has been no evidence of fraud and any votes that were legally cast should count. Florida has no place for misleading complaints raised by losing candidates.”

And Florida Republicans have faced increasing criticism for alleging voter fraud when law enforcement says no evidence of the sort exists.

For Caldwell, though, getting a full accounting of all votes will be essential even if he ends up losing the election.

“I have zero interest in winning this election on a legal loophole,” he said.

“Whoever serves as the next Agriculture Commissioner, whether it’s myself or my opponent, should look forward over the next four years without a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the office.”

Interestingly, Caldwell and Fried both seem to be abiding by the same legal strategies as their partisan cohorts in the U.S. Senate recount.

There, Republican Rick Scott, who maintains a lead of more than 12,500 votes over Bill Nelson, has argued against counting any questionable votes, whether that means votes in the mail as of Election Day or even votes left on a table in the Supervisor of Elections Office when the tabulation deadline passes.

Nelson’s attorneys, meanwhile have sued to count votes cast even by non-citizens.

Caldwell says for the sake of election integrity, he doesn’t want any votes to count cast that weren’t in elections offices by 7 p.m. of Election Day, and his lawsuit questions if other votes have made it into totals.

“Whether that’s to my detriment is irrelevant,” he says.

Meanwhile, despite holding a lead, Fried’s team has argued to count as many votes as possible.

“Our legal team has been in court, defending against the Republican onslaught of lawsuits designed to subvert Florida’s democratic process. They are taking the necessary action to prepare for the hearings in the coming days,” said Fried spokesman Max Flugrath.

As for voted cast by fax or email in Bay County, Caldwell says supervisors must stay sticklers over the law. But, “as long as someone voted legally by a legal methos, it should be counted,” he said.

Flugrath says: “Any and all votes cast legally should count. We are working hard to protect the vote—our democratic process here in Florida must be protected and its integrity upheld.”

The question there may come down to whether voters themselves did not vote by a legal method, or if the supervisor went astray allowing those votes to be cast.

But that’s just one more question for the lawyers.

Vern Buchanan lays out plans for lame duck session

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan plans to make the most of this year’s lame duck session before being relegated to the House minority.

The Sarasota Republican and Florida Congressional Delegation chairman issued a list of end-of-year priorities, some partisan issues, and others geographic priorities.

“This is going to be a very active lame duck session and I intend to fight for local priorities, including more funding for red tide research, helping start-up small businesses and banning the slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption,” Buchanan said.

Among his priorities?

First, he wants to see a reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Trust, which expired at the end of September. Since the expiration of federal funding, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition estimates national parks have lost out on more than $107 million.

Buchanan earlier this year led the delegation in calling for a permanent reauthorization of the Trust. The Sun-Sentinel reports Buchanan worked closely with other South Florida Republicans on the effort, including Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo.

But Curbelo lost re-election this year to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. While the fund will surely maintain bipartisan support, the next few weeks will be Curbelo’s last opportunity to help save the fund.

Of course, Buchanan also wants to ensure funding for red tide research, some of which may end up happening in his district at Mote Marine Laboratory. Buchanan and Democratic Delegation co-chair Alcee Hastings backed a $100-million research package earlier this year that would fund red tide study.

That has been signed into law, but Buchanan wants further movement on harmful algal blooms, which plagued both of Florida’s coasts this year.

On the more partisan side, Buchanan co-sponsored legislation cutting federal funding for any so-called “sanctuary cities” and toughening penalties on deported individuals who re-enter the U.S. He’s likely to see action on the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act and on Kate’s Law before Congress breaks.

Buchanan this year sponsored the Thin Blue Line Act, aimed at increasing criminal penalties for cop killers. The bill passed the House but hasn’t passed the Senate yet. Buchanan would like the pill to get to the president’s desk before a new Congress gets sworn in.

The same goes for the Dog and Cat Meat Prohibition Act, another bill he worked on with Hastings. Buchanan would like the Senate to take up the bill this year. The Sarasota politician this year heavily touted his standing with animal rights groups during his re-election efforts.

But Buchanan’s best known for work on commerce, and his end-of-year priorities include movement on the Retirement Security for American Works Act, which aims to make it easier for small businesses to offer retirement benefits at a time when more than a third of workers in the country work at companies without retirement plans.

And he would also like to see some motion on the American Innovation Act, another Buchanan-sponsored bill that passed in the House but not the Senate before the election.

The build would offer more deductions for start-up businesses in an effort to allow more businesses to remain viable. Buchanan’s staff notes less than half of small businesses in the U.S. right now survive their first five years, and the congressman hopes a reduction in financial burdens would boost the odds for companies.

Buchanan touted the last two years as the most successful of his 12 years in Congress. But he has been in the majority for eight of those years. He has only been in the majority at the same time as a Republican president occupied the White House for the last two years.

Buchanan won re-election handily this year over Democrat David Shapiro. But nationwide, Democrats flipped at least 31 Republican-held seats and retook the majority. The Wall Street Journal projects Democrats may gain as many as 38 seats once all election results are tabulated.

That won’t erase Buchanan’s influence within the Florida delegation, where the Sarasota Republican expects to be re-elected alongside Hastings as co-chair of the delegation. And while Florida sends its most narrowly divided coalition in decades to Washington, with 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats, Buchanan’s party still also holds the edge there.

Other counties in Hurricane Michael’s path deny accepting electronic ballots

Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen illegally accepted more than 140 electronic ballots on or before the Nov. 6 election, citing concerns that Hurricane Michael may have displaced voters.

But so far, three other North Florida elections chiefs in the Category 4 storm’s path have denied doing the same. And no officials besides Andersen have yet owned up to accepting ballots by fax or email.

Supervisors of Elections in Franklin, Washington and Leon counties have all denied circumventing the state’s electronic ballot laws, despite suffering damage from Michael, which made landfall on Oct. 10.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley confirmed he’d spoken with Bay County leaders about a plan to let some displaced voters cast ballots by email or fax, but he didn’t accept any ballots that way himself.

“The only ones we got that way were from military folks, which is a normal practice,” Earley said, “but I do think other counties might well have done that.”

In choosing to accept email and fax and email ballots from non-military voters, Anderson went against explicit instructions from Gov. Rick Scott, who issued an executive order granting officials some leeway in executing the election in counties affected by Hurricane Michael.

The Department of State today released a statement putting responsibility for the move on the county official.

“The Florida Department of State has received reports that the Bay County Supervisor of Elections allowed some voters to return their ballots via email and fax,” said Sarah Revell, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, in a statement.

“Supervisors of Elections are independently elected constitutional officers and it is each Supervisors’ responsibility to adhere to the law at all times.”

Revell did not say whether the agency knew in advance that Andersen would allow voters to fax or email ballots.

Earley said he discussed the potential with Andersen of using the same protocol for confirming the legitimacy of military and overseas ballots to ensure voters displaced by Hurricane Michael would have their votes cast.

But in Leon County, the occasion to do that never arose.

Earley also worked with elections officials through the Panhandle to courier vote-by-mail votes, particularly those of first responders working outside their home counties, so that those responding to the hurricane didn’t forfeit their ballots.

He had no problem with Andersen accepting ballots by fax and email so long as the veracity of the ballots checked out.

“I understood the executive order was giving you lots of leeway,” Early said. “I’m not sure every possible set of circumstances was covered.

“But I don’t see a big problem with handling a displaced hurricane victim in a similar fashion to a military or overseas voter.”

Franklin County Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley told the Tampa Bay Times her office has accepted about 12 ballots via email or fax from overseas and military voters, which is allowed under the law.

Washington County Supervisor of Elections Carol Rudd similarly told the Times she did not accept any electronically transmitted votes from voters displaced by the storm, but did work to make sure first responders outside the county had ballots to mail to her elections office.

Rudd noted displaced voters were allowed by the executive order to have vote-by-mail ballots sent to a temporary address, which is normally prohibited.

Bay County supervisor unilaterally accepted votes by fax, email

Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen confirmed to Florida Politics that his office accepted more than 140 vote-by-mail ballots by fax machine or email, despite an executive order explicitly prohibiting the practice.

“This office’s job is to ensure voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots,” Andersen explained.

The elections official confirmed his office spoke with a number of voters displaced by Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in his county on Oct. 10.

Andersen said more than 140 vote-by-mail ballots were cast, 10 of them via email and the rest by fax. The Bay County canvassing board approved of each ballot before it was included in the county vote.

NBC-7 WJHG last week reported a total of 147 ballots came in electronically. Any ballot that could not be verified and audited correctly, Andersen said, did not get tabulated.

The problem with counting these votes? An executive order signed by Gov. Rick Scott allowing flexibility for election supervisors did not allow for emailed or faxed ballots.

In fact, a media release sent out by Secretary of State Ken Detzner explicitly forbids the practice.

“Voting by fax or email is not an option under the Executive Order,” reads the release.

“In the hardest hit areas, communication via phone, fax and email remains challenging and would be an unreliable method for returning ballots. Additionally, past attempts by other states to allow voters impacted by natural disasters to fax or email ballots have been rife with issues.”

The small number of votes might not make a difference but for three statewide recounts: U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner. Bay County already conducted a recount of its original tabulation of votes. In all three races, more than 70 percent of Bay County voters supported the Republican candidate.

Andersen said he had a protocol in place for the verification of military and overseas ballots, and felt that would be an appropriate procedure to use with voters displaced by the storm. He let Detzner’s office know his intentions, and did not wait for a reply.

“I never asked for approval,” he said. “I just told others what I was doing, along with other supervisors.”

A spokeswoman for the state’s chief elections officer was guarded about Andersen’s decision.

“The Florida Department of State has received reports that the Bay County Supervisor of Elections allowed some voters to return their ballots via email and fax,” said Sarah Revell, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, in a statement.

“Supervisors of Elections are independently elected constitutional officers and it is each Supervisors’ responsibility to adhere to the law at all times.”

Andersen said Scott’s executive order was penned before the storm hit and its full devastation was known.

“The real story should be that little Bay County was able to get a greater voter turnout than in the last gubernatorial race, even given the fact we had a Category 4-plus hurricane hit,” he said.

His top priority through the process remained allowing as many people to vote as possible. And he stresses that typical paths of confirmation for votes could not be used in this election.

And he’s also dealt with outraged local voters who could not cast ballots. His office as of Friday received 229 vote-by-mail ballots that arrived after Election Day and by law cannot be counted. That, despite the fact the Postal Service remains impaired weeks after the storm.

Numerous requested mail-in ballots sent out before the election came back to the office as ‘undeliverable,’ no surprise considering Michael destroyed a multitude of Bay County homes and displaced thousands of voters.

Registration deadlines in the county got extended to accommodate the storm, but Andersen’s office had little way of letting voters know with virtually no TV broadcast available, phone service cut off for most of the region, and even 911 service down after the storm.

But Andersen also said an audit trail existed for each of the votes cast by fax or email, in the event a court orders the votes to be taken out of the count.

Andersen won’t advocate that route.

“Right now, everybody is in recount mode, but they should be careful,” he said. “The real goal … should be to make sure every vote counts, and they should be counted.”

Bay County accepted ballots through email—which state law doesn’t allow: report

Elections officials in Bay County, a Republican stronghold recently battered by Hurricane Michael, accepted votes via email.

The catch: That’s counter to state law.

NBC-7 WJHG interviewed Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen about how he dealt with voters displaced by Hurricane Michael.

Andersen said he worked with 147 voters who returned ballots by email using similar protocols to those used for military and overseas ballots to allow voters to sign an oath and verify their identities.

The county supervisor claims to NBC-7 he told Secretary of State Ken Detzner his intentions before Election Day.

“Anyone that feels in the devastation that we experienced and the categories or the limitations that we had on our citizens of Bay County, if you want to turn around and take these votes away from voters because it’s not the normal prescribed issue, I would just say you ought to be ashamed of yourselves because what we did is take care of voters,” Andersen told NBC-7.

“What we have is a signature for voters and at some point, if they want to come back and reverse that scenario, I can tell you that we have that in a condition that if a court says so, we can correct that. However, that would be a very, very sad thing to do based on what you think your race or your opponent or candidacy or whatever else, because guess what? Elections are for voters. Not for candidates and not for political parties.”

Andersen spoke at length on the matter to Florida Politics on Monday.

But state officials seemed displeased at reports of Bay County’s procedures.

“The Florida Department of State has received reports that the Bay County Supervisor of Elections allowed some voters to return their ballots via email and fax,” said Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell.

“Supervisors of Elections are independently elected constitutional officers and it is each Supervisors’ responsibility to adhere to the law at all times.”

After Michael struck the region, Florida officials eased early voting restrictions for eight counties, including Bay County, recovering from the storm.

Gov. Rick Scott bent some rules through an executive order signed Oct. 10.

But in a release in an election plan for storm-struck areas released by Detzner on Oct. 18, state officials explicitly reminded elections officials that voting by fax or email is not covered by Scott’s order.

“In the hardest hit areas, communication via phone, fax and email remains challenging and would be an unreliable method for returning ballots,” reads a media release.

“Additionally, past attempts by other states to allow voters impacted by natural disasters to fax or email ballots have been rife with issues. The Department is actively reviewing ways to provide more absentee ballots to those voters in the counties severely impacted by Hurricane Michael.”

And Bay County Republican Party Chairman James Waterstradt says he was not aware before the election of email ballots being allowed. He served as an election observer during the recount of votes, which concluded last night, and said the issue of email ballots never came up there.

“I’ve only heard anything about email in reference to military ballots,” Waterstradt said.

Scott, the Republican nominee for Senate, won Bay County with 46,646 votes over incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson’s 16,684 in the initial tabulation of votes.

Three statewide races in Florida went to recount after initial tabulation, drawing scrutiny to election irregularities in all counties.

Statewide, Scott leads Nelson by 12,562 votes, or 0.15 percent.

In the gubernatorial election, Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum by 33,684 votes, or 0.41 percent.

In the Agriculture Commissioner race, Democrat Nikki Fried leads Republican Matt Caldwell by 5,326 votes, or 0.06 percent.

Bay County has already completed its recount of the Senate race, and adjusted totals to report Scott winning 46,647 votes, one more than the initial count, while Nelson’s total remained at 16,684.

In the recount totals of the Governor’s race, DeSantis also picked up a single vote and won 45,695 votes in Bay County while Gillum’s total remained at 16,738.

In the Agriculture Commissioner recount, Fried picked up that one extra vote, and records now show she received 17,011 Bay County votes to Caldwell’s 45,730.

Amid recount, Pam Bondi raises prosecution threat for Broward, Palm Beach officials

Outgoing Attorney General Pam Bondi on Sunday scolded the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for declining so far to investigate the tabulation of votes in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Bondi, a Tampa Republican, also demanded Secretary of State Ken Detzner report all election irregularities in the Democratic-leaning counties to the Office of Statewide Prosecution, which reports to her.

The state’s chief legal officer sent a letter to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen saying the law enforcement agency has an obligation to investigate now.

“I am deeply troubled by your announcement that you will not pursue any investigation or inquiry into clearly documented irregularities of election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties,” Bondi wrote.

In a separate letter, Bondi told Detzner to report “any indication creating a reasonable suspicion of potential criminal activity” on the part of Broward or Palm Beach elections officials to her office. (Both letters are also at the bottom of this post.)

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, as a U.S. Senate candidate and not as Governor, on Thursday announced a lawsuit against Broward and Palm Beach counties demanding records on the number of votes cast.

That came as continued votes caused his lead in a Senate race over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson to erode.

When final unofficial vote totals were reported to the Division of Elections by noon Saturday, Scott held a 12,562-vote, or 0.15 percent, lead in the Senate election—well with the 0.5 percent to trigger a statewide mandatory machine recount.

At a press conference, Scott also called on the FDLE to investigate irregularities in the two counties.

An FDLE spokesperson said they were “working with” Department of State officials but had not received any credible reports of elections fraud and would not investigate—at least not at that time.

“The FDLE communicated with the Department of State and they indicated at the time that they have no allegations of fraud,” FDLE spokesman Jeremy Burns said Friday afternoon.

“We offered our assistance in the event that any criminal allegations are identified, and we will remain in contact with them.”

Bondi’s letters came the same day that Scott filed an emergency complaint (see below) seeking to require that FDLE and local sheriff’s offices impound and secure all voting machines, tallies, and ballots in Broward and Palm Beach counties that are not actively in use.

Scott’s complaint also asks a judge to insist, in particular, that Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes not destroy any ballots and that Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher follow legal requirements for reviewing ballots.

In a statement, Democrats said such tactics showed an abuse of power by Scott.

“In suing to seize ballots and impound voting machines, Rick Scott is doing his best to impersonate Latin American dictators who have overthrown democracies in Venezuela and Cuba,” said Juan Peñalosa, the Florida Democratic Party’s executive director.

“The Governor is using his position to consolidate power by cutting at the very core of our Democracy.”

Susan Bucher: “Impossible” for Palm Beach to meet recount deadline

Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher says her office cannot complete a machine recount of three statewide resources before a Thursday deadline.

“It’s impossible,” she told CNN.

The statement comes the same day Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott filed a lawsuit demanding any votes counted after Saturday’s noon deadline for initial tabulation be left out of official results.

Secretary of State officials say if the recount of ballots cannot be completed before the deadline, there’s no choice but to certify results with incomplete totals.

“The deadlines for submitting the results of the recount are laid out in Florida law and the law does not give the Secretary of State any authority to grant extensions,” Sarah Revell, a spokesperson for Florida’s Department of State, tells Florida Politics.

“Florida law clearly states that if a county does not submit their results by the deadline then the results on file at that time take their place.”

The admission comes as Florida deals with an unprecedented three statewide recounts—for U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner. Palm Beach County must also hold a recount for the state House District 89 race.

As of the first tabulation, Scott leads Democrat Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race by 12,562 votes, or 0.15 percent. For Governor, Republican Ron DeSantis leads Andrew Gillum by 33,684, or 0.41 percent. For Agriculture Commissioner, Democrat Nikki Fried leads by 5,326 votes, or 0.06 percent.

In state House District 89, Republican Mike Caruso leads Democrat Jim Bonfiglio by 37 votes.

CNN reports Republican and Democratic election observers in Palm Beach County agree the count won’t be completed in time.

The county was the last to report totals to the Division of Elections on Saturday when a voter tabulation date passed.

Scott lawsuit says Bucher’s office failed to comply with state deadlines and reporting requirements.

The Division of Elections reports Palm Beach County saw 595,840 voters participate in this year’s general election, a turnout of 63.82 percent.

A total of 8,302,983 voters statewide voted in the election, a turnout of 62.53 percent.

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