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Rick Scott calls on sheriffs to watch for election law violations during recounts

Gov. Rick Scott today called on sheriffs in Florida’s 67 counties to watch for elections law violations as recounts take place.

“I am urging every Sheriff in the State of Florida to watch for any violations during the recount process as outlined in Florida law,” Scott said Saturday.

Of course, the personal stakes of a recount for Scott remain high. The Republican challenged Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson this year and holds just a 12,562-vote lead for the seat, as of 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

The urging from the governor for law enforcement to keep an eye on the recounts comes despite the fact enforcement of election law in Florida falls under the jurisdiction of county election supervisors.

Florida Statute 98.015 says supervisors of elections “shall ensure that all voter registration and list maintenance procedures conducted by such supervisor are in compliance with any applicable requirements prescribed by rule of the department through the statewide voter registration system.”

The enforcement of federal voting laws also falls under the supervisor. The law also puts authority over deputy supervisors and elections oversight in the hands of the elected or appointed supervisor for each county.

Scott, though, noted pointed to another statute granting sheriffs certain election oversight authority.

“The sheriff shall exercise strict vigilance in the detection of any violations of the election laws and in apprehending the violators,” the law reads.

“The Governor may appoint special officers to investigate alleged violations of the election laws, when it is deemed necessary to see that violators of the election laws are apprehended and punished.”

Scott’s directive comes as Florida prepares for an unprecedented three statewide recounts to take place simultaneously. The races for U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner all had margins so small state law calls for automatic recounts.

That’s a margin of 0.18 percent. Florida law calls for a machine recount with a margin of 0.5 percent or less, and a hand recount for margins under 0.25 percent.

Scott’s Senate campaign this week filed lawsuits against elections supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Caruso Bonfiglio

Mike Caruso-Jim Bonfiglio margin remains razor-thin as recount looms

Republican Mike Caruso maintains a narrow 124-vote lead over Democrat Jim Bonfiglio.

As the bulk of post-election tabulation attention turns to Broward County, the state House District 89 race race sits in hand recount range itself.

The contest reportedly dropped this morning to a margin of 37 votes before coming back to the 124-vote lead as of 9:30 a.m. But that’s still a margin of about 0.16 percent.

Florida law calls for an automatic recount of votes if the margin falls with 0.5 percent. If the margin then remains with 0.25 percent, that triggers a hand recount of votes.

This happens as Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott, looking toward a recount process in his race with Democrat Bill Nelson, has filed a lawsuit regarding the transparency and handling of under- and over-votes cast in the county.

Caruso told the Palm Beach Post he’s been uncomfortable with the “ballot duplication” process where elections officials recreate spoiled ballots.

“I was uncomfortable with that myself, people marking ballots with pens out of sight,” Caruso told the newspaper. “We can’t be sure that nothing nefarious happened.”

But Bonfiglio for his part has praised Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.

“It’s been a complete, open process,” Bonfiglio told the Post. “I think Susan Bucher has done a fantastic job. I’m sure the democratic process will play itself out and all the votes will be counted.”

District 89 lies entirely within Palm Beach County.

Bucher herself has not spoken with media about the process.

Elections officials face a noon deadline on the first tabulation of votes cast in the Tuesday general election.

Caruso, watching the elections process closely for obvious reasons, says he’s seen Palm Beach officials put more than 300 new votes into the pool and rejected 932 votes. Those ballots could be from anywhere in the county, not necessarily in the House district.

But the tabulation has statewide stakes as well, with the Senate election, Governor’s race and Agriculture Commissioner contest all sitting within mandatory recount margins right now.

Disqualified: Judge removes himself from Bill Nelson ballots case

The federal judge presiding over U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s lawsuit to count provisional and mail ballots invalidated because of mismatched signatures has taken himself off the case.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, based in Tallahassee, entered an “order of disqualification” early Saturday.

And Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who has often taken the Rick Scott administration to task, took over the case.

It’s not clear from court dockets if the move affects an initial hearing in the case that Hinkle had set for Wednesday.

According to the Division of Elections, as of Saturday, outgoing GOP Gov. Scott leads Nelson, the incumbent Democrat, in the race for his seat by 14,848 votes. It wasn’t clear whether that included updated counts from Broward and Palm Beach counties, the subject of separate litigation.

“After conducting the scheduling conference and entering an order (Friday), I remembered that my brother is a party to a lawsuit involving (Gov. Scott),” he wrote. “This would not affect my handling of this case, but a reasonable person might think otherwise.

“Accordingly, I hereby disqualify myself from this case.”

Don Hinkle

Tallahassee attorney Don Hinkle has a case before a state appellate court over whether Scott is defying the state’s financial disclosure law by “underreporting his vast personal wealth,” according to the AP.

Scott’s attorney urged that court “to prohibit a lower court from even considering the lawsuit filed last year,” the AP reported. General Counsel Dan Nordby has “contended that any disputes over whether Scott is following the law must be considered by the state’s ethics commission and not the courts.”

Reached Saturday morning, Don Hinkle said of his brother’s decision: “As always, he has exercised good judgment.” He said it was the first he had heard of the decision, adding his brother had not discussed it with him.

The case now is with Walker, an appointee of President Barack Obama, who also sits in Tallahassee. This year, he became chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, which includes the Panhandle and Big Bend.

Walker has a history of ruling against the state: He entered an injunction in 2016 telling officials they had to notify voters if signatures on a vote-by-mail ballot and voter registration forms did not match so they could fix those ballots by 5 p.m. the day before the election.

Earlier this year, he ordered state officials to overhaul Florida’s process of restoring felons’ voting rights, a move later reversed by a federal appeals court.

And he granted a preliminary injunction in a federal lawsuit over the state’s prohibition on early voting at college and university campuses.

(Previous coverage of the Nelson case is here.)

Norm Coleman advises Rick Scott not to get ‘out-lawyered’ in recount

Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman said Republican Rick Scott needs attorneys aggressively fighting for votes.

Coleman in 2008 lost re-election to Democrat Al Franken, but only after an eight-month recount, one where Coleman still feels slighted.

“In the end, you can get out-lawyered,” he told Fox & Friends this morning.

Importantly, there have been no accusations of voter fraud in the Tuesday election, and Florida is not yet in a recount. The deadline for a final tabulation of votes is at noon today.

Coleman spoke on the conservative morning show as Florida’s Senate race remains in overtime. Much of Fox & Friends this morning was devoted to the impending Florida recount.

“How is this happening in America,” host Ed Henry asked several times.

Coleman recounted that early in the recount process, he wasn’t aggressively challenging Franken votes in Republican counties while the Democratic team worked aggressively everywhere.

In the end, Coleman lost to Franken by 312 votes.

The Minnesota Republican recommends Scott take an aggressive posture now.

Franken’s legal team in the 2008 election included Marc Elias, Coleman noted.

“He did my race and he did Dino Rossi’s race,” Coleman said, referencing the 2004 Washington gubernatorial election where Rossi, a Republican, lost to Democrat Christine Gregoire in a recount after holding the lead on election night.

Fox then brought on Florida commentator Dan Bongino, who cracked, “We have a new thing in Florida called ‘late voting,’ “ he said.

He slammed Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, the subject of much Fox News ire all morning.

“You had one job,” Bongino said. “As Election supervisor, just count the votes.”

Bongino said in the future, the state needs to take over the vote count in Broward County.

Earlier in the show, former Congressional candidate Tim Canova, who challenged Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as an independent this year and as a Democrat two years ago, criticized Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. Canova has previously called for Snipes removal over past legal battles.

To that extent, he said Scott missed an opportunity then that haunts him now.

“I warned Gov. Scott and everyone if she stayed in that position, she would only be rigging again,” Canova said.

Canova shared video from a campaign volunteer who filmed elections officials transporting ballots by private vehicle, a chain of custody issue. That video has fueled speculation online about the integrity of the Broward County vote counts.

Recount chaos: Rick Scott says Palm Beach official flouting court order

The Rick Scott for U.S. Senate campaign is accusing Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher of refusing to comply with a court order issued earlier Friday.

But Bucher says she just won’t be able to meet that deadline, according to WPBF’s Terri Parker. The ballots were to be provided to the county canvassing board.

Circuit Judge Krista Marx issued an order requiring Bucher to submit “overvoted” and “undervoted” absentee ballots for public review prior to the votes being counted.

Scott’s race against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson appears to be headed to a recount, highlighting the importance of county officials’ oversight of the process.

Those ballots were to be provided to the county canvassing board. Now, Bucher says she won’t be able to meet that deadline, according to WPBF’s Terri Parker.

The Scott campaign issued a scathing statement in response.

“Tonight, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher announced that she is refusing to comply with a court order to submit overvotes and undervotes to the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board for review under the court-ordered deadline,” said Chris Hartline, a Scott spokesperson.

“Susan Bucher has consistently refused to follow state law and comply with legally required deadlines and regulations. Whether it’s gross incompetence or intentional disregard for the rule of law is irrelevant at this point. Either way, it is embarrassing and unacceptable.”

The news comes the same night Broward County complied with a separate order from another judge, requiring Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes to submit to the Scott campaign the county’s tally of ballots received and counted.

Scott’s team said they have received documents from Snipes’ office, and are reviewing them to ensure they are complete.

Recount revving up? Broward releases vote info to Rick Scott campaign

The Rick Scott for Senate campaign Friday night said it has received documents requested from the office of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. Scott’s team said they’ll first be reviewing them to make sure they’re complete.

Snipes was ordered to release information regarding the county’s vote totals earlier Friday evening by Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips.

The ruling was part of a lawsuit initiated against Snipes by the Scott campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Snipes was ordered to release the total number of ballots cast in the county. Phillips also mandated that the county list how many of those ballots had been counted and how many still remain uncounted.

Phillips cited violations by Snipes of both the Florida Constitution and the state’s public records law in issuing her ruling.

Scott has accused county officials of conspiring to steal the election from him. The outgoing and term-limited Republican Governor appears to be headed for a recount in his election bid to oust Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

The contest is one of several throughout the state which look to be in recount range.

The latest numbers gives Scott a lead of just under 15,000 votes among more than 8 million cast. He currently leads Nelson by just 0.18 percentage points.

Elections where the margin of victory is at or below 0.5 percent must undergo a machine recount under Florida law.

The Scott campaign issued a statement earlier, praising Phillips’ decision to order the vote counts released.

“We are glad that the Broward Supervisor of Elections is being held accountable for this unethical failure,” spokesman Chris Hartline said.

“Bill Nelson and his ragtag group of liberal lawyers from D.C. keep trying to steal this election, but they won’t get away with it. Floridians deserve transparency, and we are going to keep fighting to protect the choice the voters made in this election.”

Hartline is referring to Marc Elias of Perkins Coie, a high-powered law firm based in D.C. Elias is representing Nelson’s campaign in the legal quagmire surrounding the election.

Judge sets hearing in case over ballots with mismatched signatures

After a brief scheduling call Friday afternoon, lawyers will be in court Wednesday to argue for and against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s lawsuit to count provisional and mail ballots invalidated because of mismatched signatures.

And it only took a short while before Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle brought up the specter of Bush v. Gore.

Nelson this week filed in federal court in Tallahassee for court orders allowing such ballots to be tallied in his race with outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Scott.

There is some precedent: For example, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in 2016 ordered the state to notify voters if signatures on a vote-by-mail ballot and their voter registration forms did not match. The idea was to give those people an opportunity to prove who they were before Election Day.

Nelson’s suit bemoans “election officials’ subjective determination that the signature on the voter’s ballot does not match the voter’s signature in the precinct register.” The case is against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Florida’s chief elections officer.

Those “entrusted with the fate of a provisional or absentee voter’s ballot are not trained in signature verification, nor do they follow any pre-determined standards or other regulations that ensure accurate, uniform processes when comparing signatures,” according to a legal memo filed in the case.

“Rather, they employ a litany of procedures … using their collective best judgment as to what constitutes a signature match,” it said.

Hinkle

Nelson attorney Uzoma Nkwonta told Hinkle that his client “wants a resolution as quickly possible,” noting Saturday’s noon deadline for county elections supervisors to turn in “unofficial” results to the state.

“The object of the endeavor is to get this right,” Hinkle said, rather than rush to judgment. “It’s far more important to do this well.”

After allowing lawyers from various parties — including the Attorney’s General’s office — to augment their filed briefs, Hinkle set a hearing for 1 p.m. Wednesday in his Tallahassee courtroom. That’s the day before machine recount returns would be due, assuming one in the Senate is triggered.

Hinkle telegraphed at least one issue when he asked about the mechanics of how officials tell voters whose ballots were rejected that they can “cure” their ballots by showing they’re the same person who registered.

It varies among counties, he was told, with smaller, rural areas having more “personalized” ways, and others using email.

The judge was concerned about “how that squares with Bush v. Gore,” he said. He didn’t get an answer.

__

Updated 9 p.m. — Hinkle issued a scheduling order late Friday, noting that Walker’s previous order and “now a state statute provide a limited right to cure a rejection.”

He refers to a measure (HB 105) introduced by then-state Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, passed unanimously by lawmakers and signed into law by Scott in 2017 that applies to vote-by-mail ballots with mismatched signatures.

It allows a voter “to complete and submit an affidavit in order to cure the vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on the day before the election.”

“The plaintiffs assert that, if a preliminary injunction is not entered by (noon Saturday), votes by mail will be unconstitutionally rejected,” Hinkle wrote. “But if there has been a constitutional violation—a proposition the defendant and intervenors do not accept—the ability to remedy the violation will not end on (Saturday).”

He did not alter the hearing previously set for Wednesday: “The plaintiffs will suffer no irreparable harm before their motion can be addressed on the schedule established by this order.”

Cruz, who exited the House this month as Democratic Leader, is now locked in a struggle for her own potential recount in her race with incumbent GOP state Sen. Dana Young for the Senate District 18 seat.

As of Friday night, according to the Division of Elections, she led Young 104,001 votes to 103,625, a difference of 0.18 percent.

Election experts say process working amid furor

The lawsuits piled up and the finger-pointing escalated Friday as Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s slim lead over U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson continued to shrink.

While some elections supervisors tallied remaining votes, a recount appeared almost certain in the Senate race, which Scott led by 56,000 votes on election night. The Republican’s advantage dwindled to about 15,000 votes — out of nearly 8.2 million ballots cast statewide — by Friday, well within the 0.5 percent margin requiring a machine recount.

Watching his lead shrink, Scott accused elections supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties of “incompetence” and fraud.

But elections experts say the process is working exactly how it is designed under a state law that gives county supervisors until noon Saturday to submit their preliminary, unofficial results to the Florida Division of Elections.

“The final results are not election night,” Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley told The News Service of Florida on Friday. “The final results are due from Florida 12 days after the election.”

The supervisor spoke to reporters shortly before a 1 p.m. meeting of the county canvassing board, comprised of a judge, a county commissioner and Earley. Like other canvassing boards, the panel makes decisions about mail-in ballots and provisional ballots and plays a significant role in hand recounts.

Voters in Florida can cast ballots in a variety of ways. They can vote by mail, cast ballots in person during an early-voting period in the two weeks before the election, or they can vote on Election Day. Voters whose eligibility is in question or whose information cannot be verified on Election Day can cast “provisional” ballots, which have to be scrutinized by local officials and may also need to be validated by county canvassing boards.

After the unofficial results are submitted to Tallahassee by mid-day Saturday, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will determine whether any of the races fall within the 0.5 percent margin requiring a machine recount.

In a machine recount, all of the ballots are fed through voting machines. Ballots with “undervotes” or “overvotes” — in which voters may have skipped a race or made extra marks in races, causing their ballots to be rejected by the machines — are set aside, or “outstacked.”

Under state law, machine-recount results are due to the state by 3 p.m. on the ninth day following the general election, which is Thursday. Those are considered the “second unofficial results” of the election.

If Detzner determines that any of the races are within a 0.25 percent margin, he must order a manual, or hand, recount.

In a manual recount, county canvassing boards examine the “outstacked” ballots.

“The whole purpose of this is to look for voter intent. Just because a machine doesn’t see a vote doesn’t mean that human eyes won’t see a vote,” Earley said.

The results from the manual recounts, called “official returns,” must be provided to the state no later than noon on Nov. 18 — 12 days after the election.

Two days later, the state Elections Canvassing Commission, comprised of Scott and two members of the Florida Cabinet, will meet at 9 a.m. in Tallahassee to certify the official election results.

Earley’s long-serving predecessor, Ion Sancho, said Florida’s law anticipates that it takes time for elections supervisors to finalize their vote tallies, hence the 12-day window before the results are finalized.

Ballots can be damaged in the mail or at home by voters before being sent to the elections office. Elections workers have to replicate the damaged ballots, so they can be read by voting machines, which then have to be examined by county canvassing boards, according to Sancho.

That’s a painstaking, time-consuming process, he said.

“Votes are not being manufactured out of nowhere. This is a process that a Republican Legislature, a Republican Governor and a Republican Secretary of State have developed since 2002,” Sancho, who served as Leon County elections supervisor for nearly three decades before retiring two years ago, told the News Service.

Much of the current consternation about Florida’s election is focused on Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, whose office was still processing ballots Friday. The results of those ballots were largely responsible for narrowing the gap between Scott and Nelson, whose lawyer, Marc Elias, predicted that the margin in the race would continue to evaporate as more provisional ballots are tabulated.

According to Snipes’ website, her office had not completed counting ballots that were cast during the early-voting period, which ended Sunday. But she has not said how many ballots remain outstanding, and she’s facing lawsuits from Scott and Matt Caldwell, a Republican candidate for Agriculture Commissioner who saw his 4,000-vote election-night lead reversed. By Friday afternoon, Caldwell’s opponent, Democrat Nikki Fried, held a 3,000-vote advantage.

“Certainly, there are hiccups here and there. It’s a very complicated process. When I start talking about how recounts work, or just tabulation in general, I always see people’s eyes roll into the back of their heads. But it’s those details that you’ve got to get right. Sometimes it takes time. I don’t think that anything nefarious is happening down south, but it may have been organized better,” Earley said.

Late Thursday evening, Scott told reporters he asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the elections offices in Broward and Palm Beach counties. FDLE is working with Detzner’s office and “will investigate any allegations of criminal activity or fraud,” agency spokeswoman Gretl Plesinger said in an email Friday afternoon.

“We do not have an active investigation at this point,” she said.

Broward voters have the power to do something about it if they are unhappy about their elected supervisor, Sancho said.

“The Broward County supervisor of elections, at age 72, was re-elected to another four-year term. The voters made that decision. They have to live with it. Votes matter. If people want the elections procedure to work better, then perhaps they should really look at the candidates who are running for supervisor,” he said.

Marco Rubio says Broward County put election integrity on line

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio came to the aid of his fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott Friday declaring that the vote-counting and transparancy problems at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office is putting the integrity of Florida’s U.S. Senate election on the line.

Rubio insisted that his concerns were “not about an effort to prevent anyone from counting votes.”

He spent most of his remarks criticising Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes for not being open about why her office is so late in reporting and counting votes that should have been tabulated on Tuesday, and for refusing to tell anyone why, or how many votes are at issue.

Still, Florida’s junior Senator, who stayed out of this year’s election between Scott and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson until just the past week or so, said the pattern he’s seen of Snipes’ activities, the stories he’s heard about incidents this week, and her refusal to date to provide information leads him to believe that “the whole thing” concerns him. He didn’t explicitly say whether the whole thing includes questioning the validity of any votes in Snipes’ possession, but he did imply it.

“The issue here is why is it taking them so long to count the votes and where are they getting them from?” Rubio said.

Some of that information is expected to be revealed after 7 p.m. if Snipes meets a court order, brought through a lawsuit from Scott’s campaign, to disclose information.

“I’m concerned about everything, because when you don’t even know how many ballots are there, and they refuse to tell you how many ballots they have, or how many ballots need to be counted, or when they came, you have to be concerned about the whole thing,” Rubio said in a press conference organized by Scott’s campaign. “You have to be, given what we have seen in the past. So I’m concerned about the whole thing. Absolutely.”

Rubio was joined by attorney Tim Cerio of GrayRobinson, one of the lawyers working on the Scott campaign, who described incidents he saw of Snipes refusing to turn over ballots to the county’s canvassing board, of voters coming in to vouch for provisional ballots and being given false information, and of refusing to provide information.

Rubio said that after the election is concluded, Snipes should be considered for removal from office, “given the damage she’s done to public credibility to our elections.”

Cerio said Scott is not considering removing Snipes, “at this time.”

“This is a procedural reality,” Rubio said later. “At the end of the day the one thing our country uses to resolve policy disputes are elections. And if people start to doubt that elections are valid and credible, or that there are problems in the way they are processed and handled, then we’ve got big problems.

“This is more than the outcome of the race. This is about public confidence in our election process. Doubts are being driven not by political gamesmanship, but by reality,” Rubio added.

Recount ready: Courts side with Rick Scott on South Florida vote counts

Supervisors of elections in Broward and Palm Beach counties have been ordered to turn over records regarding the number of ballots cast in their respective areas following a pair of lawsuits by the Rick Scott for Senate campaign.

Brenda Snipes’ office in Broward has until 7 p.m. Friday evening to turn over those records.

The Scott campaign also released a statement regarding the order given to Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.

“We are pleased that the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections is being held accountable for this failure,” said Scott Campaign Manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman.

“Bill Nelson is trying to commit voter fraud in broad daylight and we won’t let them. We will continue to fight for full transparency and accountability, and to protect the will of Florida voters.”

It wasn’t clear what Zeckman is referring to when alleging Nelson is attempting to commit voter fraud, as the elections are handled by individual counties’ SoE offices. It’s also not clear the substance of the fraud being alleged.

Scott’s team sued Broward and Palm Beach counties after reported vote counts were in dispute.

Scott sought to clarify the exact number of votes cast in Broward County. Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips agreed with Scott’s arguments, mandating Snipes turn over those numbers to the Scott campaign.

In Palm Beach, Circuit Judge Krista Marx says Bucher must submit “overvoted” and “undervoted” absentee ballots for a public review prior to the votes being counted.

Scott is in the midst of an election that appears to be headed for a recount after he challenged Nelson for his U.S. Senate seat. The contest is one of several throughout the state which appear to be in recount range.

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