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‘Un-American and unacceptable’: Matt Gaetz wants Broward SOE suspended

Congressman Matt Gaetz, one of presumed Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis‘ transition chairs, called on Friday for the suspension of Broward County’s supervisor of elections.

“The outrageous ballot-counting issues in Broward County are un-American and unacceptable. I call on Governor Scott to immediately suspend Brenda Snipes, Supervisor of Elections for Broward County,” Gaetz said.

Scott, of course, is in a race that is getting closer as votes from Broward and other locations have been counted. His campaign has already won a legal action in Palm Beach County regarding questionable vote counting.

Gaetz says Snipes “failed to follow state transparency laws during this election, and has a long history of misconduct, including preemptively destroying ballots.

“Behavior like this damages the integrity of Florida’s elections, which is our fundamental right as Floridians and as Americans. The bipartisan, Senate-confirmed Secretary of State should place the office in receivership and take over. Enough is enough,” Gaetz added.

Gaetz had already condemned issues in Broward and Palm Beach counties earlier Friday.

“It is absurd that since Election Night almost 80,000 Floridian ballots have been spoken into existence in the two most conspicuously blue counties. The supervisors for these counties have no explanation for where these ballots were, why they weren’t counted, or how many more even exist. This malfeasance erodes the faith that undergirds our democratic system, and after 18 years, Florida should have been better equipped to avoid this partisan brand of unlawful electioneering.”

“For a party that is willing to cry wolf over voter suppression in every election they lose, the Democrats have no problem relying on fraudulent ballots to do the heavy lifting for their candidates. I cannot and will not be the one who sits idly by and watches corruption of this magnitude occur without putting up a fight to stop this injustice,” Gaetz said.

Florida may see three recount scenarios in play. The Governor’s race sees DeSantis ahead of Democrat Andrew Gillum by just 36,070 votes at this writing. In the race for the U.S. Senate, Republican challenger Rick Scott clings to a lead just north of 15,000 votes over incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

And in the race for Agriculture Commissioner, Democrat Nikki Fried leads Republican Matt Caldwell by over 3,000 votes. Caldwell has filed an emergency injunction claiming that Broward accepted absentee ballots after 7 p.m. Tuesday, a violation of state law.

Gaetz’s ally, President Donald Trump, is not ruling out federal investigations.

“What’s going on in Florida is a disgrace,” Trump said Friday, noting “a lot of dishonesty” in Broward, and pointing out the issues with elections in past cycles in the Democratic stronghold.

Trump had already alleged “election fraud” Thursday, and repeated charges along those lines Friday.

Hurricane Michael dealt $1.3 billion wallop to timber producers

Hurricane Michael inflicted nearly $1.5 billion in losses to Florida agriculture, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putman announced Friday.

By far, the timber industry bore the worst of it, losing $1.3 billion.

“Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle, and many of Florida’s rural communities, which rely heavily on agriculture, took the worst hit,” Putnam said in a written statement.

“As we continue to rebuild, we must prioritize rural economic development programs at the local, state and federal levels,” he said.

The figures are based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida Forest Service, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and industry sources.

“These are early estimates and the total agricultural economic losses resulting from Hurricane Michael may change,” the department said.

Losses per sector include nearly $50 million in cotton; $43 million in cattle; $23 in peanuts; $16 million in nurseries; $10 million in poultry and eggs; $8.6 million in vegetables; $7.2 million in other field crops; $6.4 million in dairy; $5 million in aquaculture; $4.4 million in fruit; and $4 million in tree nuts including pecans.

The department defines losses as reduced sales due to wind or flooding, decreased yields, spoiled products, and dead livestock. The total also includes cleanup, additional feed or harvest costs, and damage to land and equipment.

The latest: Governor’s race in machine recount; Senate’s, Ag Commissioner’s in hand recount

Overnight changes in the vote totals for Florida’s three contested statewide race show Republican Ron DeSantis‘ lead in the governor’s election slipping to 36,000 votes, Republican Rick Scott’s lead in the U.S. Senate election down to 15,000, and Democrat Nikki Fried moving out to an almost 3,000 vote lead for Agriculture Commissioner.

That calls for a machine recount of the governor’s election and hand recounts for the U.S. Senate and Agriculture Commissioner elections.

DeSantis’ lead over Democrat Andrew Gillum had slipped overnight to 36,211 votes ealy Friday morning. That’s 0.44 percent of the vote total, well below the 0.50 percent difference threshold, currently 41,048 votes,  triggering a mandatory machine recount of the governor’s election. The number is slipping teasingly toward the 0.25 percent difference threshold, currenlty 20,524 votes, that would trigger a hand recount.

Scott’s lead Friday morning had slipped to 15,074 votes over Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. That’s 0.18 percent of the vote total, well under the 0.25 difference, currently at 20,436 votes, triggering a hand recount.

Fried’s lead over Republican Matt Caldwell had incrased to 2,915 votes overnight. That’s 0.04 percent of the vote total, also still well under the 0.25 difference, currently at 20,116 votes in that race, requiring a hand recount.

Supreme Court takes up battle over public schools

Two decades after voters approved a constitutional amendment that called for a “high quality” system of public schools, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday took up a legal battle about whether the state has properly carried out voters’ wishes.

An attorney for the group Citizens for Strong Schools asked the Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal that rejected the lawsuit. Attorney Jodi Siegel said the case should be sent back to a circuit judge to apply standards that would properly determine whether the state is meeting the constitutional requirements.

“We have current standards and current measurements that are showing significant disparities,” Siegel said. “We had 670,000 children that are failing reading. So this is not a child or two. This is a systemic failure.”

But Rocco Testani, an attorney for the state, argued that the Supreme Court should uphold the lower-court decision. Testani also said the state has made changes since 1998 that have led to significant improvements in the public-school system.

“It has been successful, it has worked,” Testani said. “It is not a system that anyone should be concerned is broken.”

The 1998 constitutional amendment said it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools.”

Citizens for Strong Schools and other plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in 2009, arguing that Florida has not properly complied with the constitutional amendment and pointing to issues such as many students not being able to read at grade level. After holding a trial, however, a Leon County circuit judge ruled against the plaintiffs in 2016.

The 1st District Court of Appeal last December upheld that ruling and said arguments about the state failing to adequately provide for public schools “raise political questions not subject to judicial review.”

Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson on Thursday also questioned whether courts should decide such issues, raising the possibility of violating the separation of powers with the legislative and executive branches.

“In order to have any separation of powers whatsoever, you would have to have a … very deferential standard of review,” Lawson said as he questioned Siegel. “Otherwise, we’re just going in and saying, ‘Spend the money here, do this, this is the right program,’ based on evidence that’s presented. And that, just to me, cannot be right given that we’re supposed to have three separate branches of government.”

But Justice R. Fred Lewis said courts are designed to interpret “principled concepts” in the Constitution and has long dealt with other difficult issues such as due process and civil rights.

“The Constitution here is the will of the people,” Lewis said while questioning Testani. “It may be difficult, it may be sticky and mucky. But what makes the difference with this (the education issues) as opposed to those other principled concepts?”

Siegel asked the justices to find that courts can resolve the issues about whether the state is properly carrying out the constitutional amendment. She also asked the justices to send the case back to circuit court with instructions about standards that should be used.

If ultimately successful, Siegel said the plaintiffs are asking that the state be required to provide a “remedial plan” for meeting the constitutional requirements.

The Supreme Court typically takes months to rule in such cases.

FRIED

Recount looms in Ag Commissioner race, as Nikki Fried seizes lead

Democrat Nikki Fried now holds the lead over Republican Matt Caldwell in tabulated votes in the Agriculture Commissioner race.

Out of over 8.046 million votes counted, Fried leads by 2,885.

If she wins and replaces incumbent Adam Putnam, Fried would be the first Democrat in the Cabinet for a number of cycles.

Caldwell held a lead Tuesday night, but as votes slowly trickled in, most notably thousands of early and vote-by-mail votes in Democratic-leaning Broward County, the candidates’ totals moved to a flip.

“Since the first returns came in on election night, we have said that seeing through this process to the end, ensuring every vote is counted so the voices of Floridians are heard, and their will is respected—is the top priority,” Fried said.

“As Supervisors across our state work tirelessly to do just that, our support has grown and we are now leading by just under 600 votes—Florida Supervisors and Canvassing Boards are doing an incredible job of ensuring everyone’s voices are heard and the process is fair and transparent. We’re confident that by Saturday, when final results are certified, our lead will have grown, and the voters’ choice in the race for Agriculture Commissioner will be clear.”

On Thursday, both candidates urged supporters who had filed provisional ballots to follow through.

“If you cast a provisional ballot, make sure your vote is counted. Contact your Supervisor of Elections office **ASAP** before the 5pm deadline,” Fried tweeted.

Caldwell also pleaded with voters to check on the status of their ballots.

“This election is coming down to the wire,” he tweeted. “If you cast a provisional ballot we NEED you to contact your supervisor of elections by the 5pm deadline to make sure your vote for Matt Caldwell is counted.”

The Agriculture Commissioner contest was the first where the leader flipped as the counting of votes neared the 48-hour stage. However, two other seats are in play

But a U.S. Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott, who holds a 0.18 percent lead, continues to tighten.

And the gubernatorial election between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, which Gillum conceded Tuesday night, just moved into automatic recount range with a .44 spread.

Florida law requires a machine recount if the margin between candidates falls with 0.5 percent. A manual recount of votes will occur if, after the second machine count, the margin remains with 0.25 percent.

Matt Caldwell labels Broward elections corrupt as recount looms

Republican Matt Caldwell took Broward County elections officials to task as his lead over Democrat Nikki Fried disappeared in the statewide Agriculture Commissioner contest.

Caldwell spokesman Brian Swenson attacked Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes while promising the campaign will ensure every vote gets counted.

“We have watched Brenda Snipes and the Broward Supervisor of Elections demonstrate gross incompetence and potential corruption election cycle after election cycle,” Swenson said.

“Over the past two days, Snipes’ office has refused to give either an accurate count of outstanding ballots or where they come from, all while the Democratic candidates continue to pick up tens of thousands of new votes. Ms. Snipes’ office has a record of incompetence and illegal behavior.”

That came hours after Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio released a string of tweets saying the Broward and Palm Beach elections offices failed to follow the law by taking days to count all early and vote-by-mail ballots instead of counting them immediately after polls closed.

Caldwell claimed victory on Tuesday night when he led Fried by about 41,000 votes out of 8 million cast.

But as more votes came in from Broward and Palm Beach counties, the margin between candidates tightened. Today, Fried pulled ahead in the election and now sits on a 2,910-vote lead.

Fried from Election Day on declined to concede, noting Wednesday morning the election appeared closer than any statewide general election since the infamous 2000 presidential recount between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

Thursday, Fried issued a statement supporting the counting of votes and predicting her lead will hold.

Caldwell promised to pursue legal options to ensure the integrity of the election.

“Our legal team is going to pursue every option to ensure election results are counted fairly, accurately, and legally,” Swenson said. “Matt Caldwell will be Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture and the will of the voters will be upheld.”

Florida law calls for a recount of votes if the margin between candidates ends up within 0.5 percent of all votes cast. A manual recount will take place if that recount produces a margin below 0.25 percent.

The margin between Caldwell and Fried right now remains about 0.04 percent.

Premature? Democratic leaders congratulate Nikki Fried for victory

Florida Democratic leaders rejoiced as Democrat Nikki Fried seized the lead in the state Agriculture Commissioner race over Republican Matt Caldwell.

Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo released a statement congratulating Fried on her “win.”

“As the important work of counting every last legal vote continues, it has become clear that the electoral process has worked and Nikki Fried will serve as Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services,” Rizzo said.

“Today’s victory, while belated, is a victory for all of Florida as Nikki will be a strong advocate for everyone and will fight to protect our environment, our health care, and consumer rights.”

Of course, Caldwell claimed victory on Tuesday night when the vote still favored him by thousands, as reported then.

As of Thursday afternoon, Fried seized the lead—by 2,841 votes.

That margin stands at less than a hundredth of a percent of the more than 8 million votes cast.

Florida law requires a machine recount of votes if the margin of victory falls under 0.5 percent.

If the recount produces a margin with 0.25 percent or less that will trigger a manual recount. The Fried-Caldwell race is well within that margin.

Through Wednesday and Thursday, the gap between Republican and Democratic statewide candidates closed steadily, thanks largely to late reported vote-by-mail and early votes in deep blue Broward and Palm Beach counties.

At the same time that the Agriculture Commissioner race turned on its head, the gap in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and apparent winner Rick Scott tightened to manual recount range as well.

And today, the gap in the Governor’s race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum shrunk to machine recount range.

Notably, the final margin between George W. Bush and Al Gore in the infamous 2000 recount was 537 votes.

Recount: League of Women Voters pleads with provisional voters to fix ballots

The League of Women Voters (LWV) is out with a public service announcement amid the various recounts, urging those who cast provisional ballots to verify them.

Voters are given two days following an election to provide ID or other documentation to their county’s Supervisor of Elections to verify their identity and make sure their ballots are counted.

That leaves those voters with a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday to get that information in.

“We want to make sure all eligible voters who cast a ballot have their vote counted,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the group’s Florida chapter.

“The LWV has long advocated for a thorough and accurate process of counting provisional ballots. All ballots must be counted. We will be monitoring closely and taking further action as needed if necessary.”

LWV is a nonpartisan group aimed at increasing voter participation across the country via advocacy and education.

Statewide races for U.S. Senate and Agriculture Commissioner are currently within the 0.5 percentage point margin which would trigger an automatic recount. The Ag. Commish race is particularly close: Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell leads Democratic nominee Nikki Fried by just 4,094 votes out of more than 8 million cast, a difference of 0.05 percentage points.

The race for Governor sits just outside that margin, with a 0.52 percentage point difference.

At the state level, recounts may also be needed in Senate District 18, House District 26 and House District 89.

Other groups, such as the Florida Democratic Party, are also out to aid those who cast provisional ballots to make sure their votes are tallied.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the campaigns for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott, who are separated by just 0.26 percentage points, have reached out to county officials for information regarding provisional ballots.

Those efforts have been rebuffed, as the officials said campaigns are denied direct access to ballots under law.

That nugget was noted by Brigham, who said those voters should nevertheless have assistance in ensuring their votes are registered.

“Providing voter information to campaigns would violate Florida’s Constitution according to election officials, but we do want to urge those who cast a provisional ballot to make sure their vote counts by providing the necessary ID or documentation to their county Supervisor of Elections before today’s deadline of 5 p.m.”

Recount-mania: Democrats on the hunt for votes

With multiple statewide races likely headed for a recount, the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) is all hands on deck attempting to track down volunteers to help with recount efforts.

Thursday is the deadline for those who cast provisional ballots to provide evidence that those ballots are valid. Voters who cast such ballots have until 5 p.m. two days following an election to verify their ballots.

As reported this morning, provisional ballots could make the difference in several races here in Florida.

As of 11:45 a.m. Thursday, the margin in the race for U.S. Senate now sits at just 0.26 percentage points, or 21,888 votes, while the Agriculture Commissioner contest has 0.05 percentage point margin, or 4,094 votes.

Races within a 0.5 percentage point margin trigger an automatic recount, with those inside 0.25 percentage points following a machine recount mandating a manual recount.

The race for Governor between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis is just outside recount range, with a 0.52 percentage point margin.

And at the state level, the contests in Senate District 18, House District 26, and House District 89 also appear to be in recount territory. And Democrats say they also have their eye on House Districts 105 and 115, both of which are currently outside the 0.5 percentage point range.

Now, the FDP is attempting to court volunteers to help reach out to voters who cast provisional ballots.

“Over the next few days a canvassing board of election judges in each county will determine whether those provisional ballots should be accepted,” read a release from the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

“Volunteers are being asked to contact these voters by phone or by visiting their homes to sign affidavits that can help ensure their votes are counted.”

The Miami-Dade Dems are asking for help at their offices in Pinecrest, Aventura, Allapattah, Coral Gables, Hialeah, Sweetwater and Miami Gardens.

Nikki Fried, who is trailing by a sliver in the Ag. Commissioner race to Republican Matt Caldwell, is also sending out email blasts asking for volunteers. She’s included a link on her campaign website to help find those willing to donate their time.

After tonight’s deadline regarding provisional ballots, it will be up to respective canvassing board to certify the results.

Senate, Agriculture races tighten; Governor contest nears recount trigger

The gap between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson dropped down to 21,899 votes as more ballots from left-leaning Broward County finally went through election office scanners.

Meanwhile, Republican Matt Caldwell’s lead over Democrat Nikki Fried dwindled to 4,109 votes in the Florida Agriculture Commissioner race.

The developments in Broward continue as Democrats mount an increasingly aggressive posture and look toward a statewide recount.

Nelson attorney Marc Elias on Wednesday made clear the campaign saw the recount as a path “to win.” He will hold a conference call with reporters later today on the matter.

Fried for her part continues to issue fundraising calls regarding the recount.

“We are going to ensure that every vote is counted,” Freid tweeted last night. “In a race this close, everyones’ voices must be heard so the will of the people is upheld.”

Just to add to the intrigue, the Florida gubernatorial election, which Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis, now sits on the verge of an automatic recount as well. DeSantis’ margin of victory there slipped to 42,948.

Florida law requires a recount for elections with a margin of victory under 0.5 percent of the vote.

In the Agriculture Commissioners race, Caldwell’s margin of victory now sits at 0.06 percent.

In the Senate contest, Scott’s margin fell to 0.26 percent.

In the Governor election, DeSantis’ lead has dropped to 0.52 percent.

If the gap between totals after a machine recount falls with 0.25 percent of the vote, then a manual recount will be required by law.

But the shifts thus far all remain part of the first tabulation of votes.

Even two days after the election, Broward and Palm Beach counties, both counties carried by Democrats in the statewide races, have yet to report a complete count of vote-by-mail ballots to the Division of Elections.

In Broward’s case, the county has not yet completed its count of early voting ballots.

Additionally, most counties have yet to review and tabulate all provisional ballots cast in the election, and there’s also a 10-day window on overseas vote-by-mail ballots to come into elections offices.

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