Scott files lawsuit over Florida Senate vote as recount odds grow

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is suing Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, alleging that her office has withheld crucial voter information as Scott's closely watched Senate race against Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonElection Countdown: Florida fight ends with Scott, DeSantis wins | Dems see Sunbelt in play for 2020 | Trump to campaign in Mississippi ahead of runoff | GOP wipeout in Orange County | Ortiz Jones concedes in Texas House race Officials overseeing elections should relinquish authority while running for office, says polling editor Rhetoric on voter fraud, suppression erodes confidence in elections, says polling editor MORE (D) appears set for a recount.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday evening, accuses Snipes’s office of withholding records regarding how many people voted, how many ballots have been counted and how many more votes remain untallied in Broward.

“The lack of transparency raises substantial concerns about the validity of the election process,” his lawsuit reads. It demands an emergency hearing ahead of a critical noon Saturday deadline for the county canvassing board to submit election results to the state Division of Elections.

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In a hastily called news conference in Tallahassee on Thursday night, Scott accused Snipes of having a “history of acting in bad faith” and called into question where new vote tallies in Broward and Palm Beach counties were coming from.

“The people of Florida deserve fairness and they deserve transparency and the supervisor of elections is refusing to give it to us,” Scott said.

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election,” he added.

In his news conference, Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to launch an investigation into the matter. He was speaking in his capacity as a candidate rather than in his official capacity as governor.

Jeremy Burns, a spokesman for FDLE, confirmed to The Hill that the department would launch an investigation into election officials and Palm Beach and Broward counties.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: WHCA picking non-comedian for headliner a 'good first step' Five takeaways from Mississippi's Senate debate Watergate’s John Dean: Nixon would tell Trump 'he's going too far' MORE condemned what he called a "big corruption scandal" on Twitter shortly after the lawsuit was announced, saying, "Florida voted for Rick Scott!"

The lawsuit comes as Florida election officials and candidates gear up for an increasingly likely recount in the Senate race between Scott and Nelson. 

Scott appeared on Tuesday night to be the victor in that race. But as new vote tallies — mostly from Broward and Palm Beach counties — trickled in Wednesday and Thursday, his lead narrowed considerably, putting the race in recount territory.

"Every Floridian should be concerned there may be rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward counties," Scott said.

In Florida, if two candidates are within 0.5 points of each other, it triggers an automatic machine recount, while a margin of 0.25 points or less prompts a hand recount. As of Thursday night, Scott led Nelson by a mere 0.18 points — well within the margin for a hand recount.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Nelson, said that the three-term senator wanted to pursue a recount to ensure that all legally cast votes were counted and accused Scott of playing politics with his lawsuit.

“The goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately," McLaughlin said in a statement. "Rick Scott’s action appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation.”

Much of the drama surrounding ballot-counting efforts in the state has centered around Broward County, a Democratic stronghold in South Florida.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call on Thursday, Marc Elias, a prominent elections lawyer hired by Nelson to counsel his campaign through a potential recount, said that he was not sure how many ballots were still uncounted in Broward.

“I think you would have to ask [Broward officials],” he said. “I don’t know. They are still counting in Broward County.”

Elias raised concerns about the fact that there had been more votes cast for down-ballot candidates than in the Senate race at the top of the ticket — a phenomenon called undervoting — in Broward County, suggesting that Nelson could stand to pick up votes if election officials sort through the ballots by hand.

But he said that he was confident Nelson would win a fourth-term in the Senate if the race went to a recount. County election officials have until noon on Saturday to submit tallies to the Florida Division of Elections. If the current 0.18-point margin between Scott and Nelson holds until then, it will trigger a hand recount.

Broward County election officials are still working to tally early voting ballots and vote-by-mail ballots, while officials in Palm Beach are tallying up vote-by-mail ballots. Most Florida counties still must sort through and evaluate provisional ballots.

Florida’s Senate race may not be the only one that goes to a recount.

As vote tallies rose on Thursday, they showed a tightening margin between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) and former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisElection Countdown: Florida fight ends with Scott, DeSantis wins | Dems see Sunbelt in play for 2020 | Trump to campaign in Mississippi ahead of runoff | GOP wipeout in Orange County | Ortiz Jones concedes in Texas House race Manual electoral process results in higher voter trust, says pollster DeSantis: GOP voters overcame 'blue wave' spurred by Andrew Gillum MORE (R) in the state’s hard-fought gubernatorial race.

Gillum conceded to DeSantis on Tuesday night after vote counts showed him trailing by a slim, yet seemingly insurmountable, 1-point margin. But that margin closed to just 0.44 points on Thursday evening, raising the prospect of a recount in that race, as well.

Updated at 11:15 p.m.