A judge in Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday ordered the county's top elections official to turn over to the county canvassing board a trove of ballots deemed faulty by local officials, delivering a key legal victory to Gov. Rick Scott's (R) Senate campaign.
The ruling by Chief Judge Krista Marx came in response to a lawsuit filed by Scott's campaign late Thursday alleging that Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher's office had withheld crucial information about vote counts.
A separate lawsuit filed by Scott and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in Broward County is being heard as well.
Marx ruled that Bucher's office violated state public records laws and ordered it to hand over "overvoted" and "undervoted" absentee ballots deemed defective by county election officials to the canvassing board for review before they are counted.
The ruling comes as Scott and Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA adviser quits after request to change name of James Webb telescope denied NASA won't rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy FAA unveils new system to reduce planes' times on taxiway MORE (D-Fla.) wage a bitter legal fight over vote counts as their Senate race appears headed for a recount.
“We are pleased that the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections is being held accountable for this failure," Scott's campaign manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman said in a statement.
"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."
Scott declared victory in the race after early vote returns showed him in the lead earlier this week. But that lead shrunk on Wednesday and Thursday as more votes trickled in from Broward and Palm Beach — both Democratic strongholds.
As of Friday afternoon, fewer than 15,000 votes separated Nelson and Scott in the race — a margin of roughly 0.18 percentage points. If that margin holds at the time county election offices submit unofficial results to the Florida Division of Elections on Saturday, it will trigger a recount.
Another lawsuit filed against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner (R) by Nelson's campaign and the Democratic Executive Committee on Friday seeks a uniform set of standards to use when canvassing boards evaluate provisional ballots.
That lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tallahassee, also asks a judge to postpone the Saturday deadline for counties to submit vote results until after the case is heard.