Florida braces for volatile recount as Trump ramps up attacks

Florida braces for volatile recount as Trump ramps up attacks

Democrats and Republicans are bracing for a protracted and volatile recount in Florida as election officials rush to meet a Thursday deadline to complete the process.

Recounts in three statewide races were in full swing, with the nail-biter race between Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D) and Gov. Rick Scott (R) taking center stage.

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Votes are also being retabulated for the state's gubernatorial race between former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida governor orders criminal investigation into handling of Jeffrey Epstein case Groups ask court to block ex-felon voting law in Florida GOP Florida governor enlists new officer to prepare state for rising sea level MORE (R) and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D).

The unfolding drama, and the legal battles surrounding it, are reminiscent of Florida’s presidential recount battle in 2000 that resulted in the election of former President George W. Bush after an intervention by the Supreme Court.

Like in 2000, much of the attention is centered on Broward County and Palm Beach County, both areas with heavy concentrations of Democratic voters that are expected to be the focus of much of the litigation.

After suggesting last week that "election fraud" had taken place, President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE ramped up his criticism, urging local officials on Monday to go with initial results from Tuesday's elections and call the races for Scott and DeSantis because "an honest vote count is no longer possible."

Meanwhile, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) called for the removal of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes whom he had appointed to the post in 2003.

“What’s happening now is a boxing match between the two different parties and candidates,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.

“It looks to me like a repeat of 2000 in the way that everybody is filing lawsuits to keep open ... every potential avenue of challenge via the courts," she said. “To me, the real picture now is it’s a litigation battle.”

Scott currently leads Nelson by roughly 12,500 votes, or about 0.15 percentage point. Meanwhile in the gubernatorial race, DeSantis led Gillum by more than 33,000 votes, or 0.41 point.

Electoral officials now face a cascade of key deadlines, starting with the results of the machine recount due on Thursday at 3 p.m.

If the margin between the candidates ends up within 0.25 point after the machine recount is conducted, a hand recount will be triggered, which would need to be completed by Sunday. 

The results would then need to be certified by Nov. 20.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told CNN on Sunday it’s “impossible” to finish three recounts by the Thursday deadline.

Though the recount has yet to be completed, the legal battle had already started. 

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Both Scott and Nelson have filed legal actions as they lobbed accusations at one another. Scott has claimed Nelson is trying to “commit fraud” to win the election, while Nelson has accused the governor of seeking to block votes cast legally.

On Sunday, Scott filed two emergency injunctions against Palm Beach and Broward counties, but suffered a setback on Monday when Broward Circuit Court Judge Jack Tuter denied his request that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and county sheriffs impound and secure vote machines and ballots when not in use.

Additionally, Scott’s campaign filed a complaint in a Broward County court requesting that the county canvassing board halt the inclusion of ballots in the final tally if they were counted after the Saturday deadline. That was when counties submitted unofficial results, triggering the three recounts. 

Meanwhile, a judge in a federal court in Tallahassee will hear a case on Wednesday regarding Nelson’s lawsuit to count mail-in and provisional ballots that were invalidated due to signatures that didn’t match.

Nelson’s camp is arguing that the state law requiring a signature on a mail-in ballot to match the one on record is “unconstitutional.”

The recount process has also been surrounded by sharp rhetoric from both sides.

Nelson on Monday called on Scott to recuse himself from “any role” in the recount process. 

“Given [Scott’s] efforts to undermine the votes of Floridians, this is the only way that we can ensure that the people’s votes are protected,” Nelson said. “The reason he’s doing these things is obvious. He’s worried when all the votes are counted, he’ll lose the election.”

And even as the recount continues to play out, Scott was set to travel to Washington, D.C., this week to attend new member orientation, including having his picture taken and voting in leadership elections, according to his campaign.

Much of the Republican attacks have centered on Broward County and Snipes, the county's embattled supervisor of elections. 

Trump on Monday again raised the specter of "fraud" in the vote counting process after last week heaping criticism on Broward County and Snipes.

“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!"

But so far, there have been no proven instances of voter fraud, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement hasn’t launched an investigation, saying they found no credible allegations.

Meanwhile, Bush called on Snipes to "be removed from her office following the recounts," saying she had "failed to comply with Florida law on multiple counts, undermining Floridians’ confidence in our electoral process."

History shows that recounts rarely change the results of statewide races, and election experts cast doubt about whether Nelson or Gillum could overcome the leads built by their Republican rivals.

But they will likely lead to a slew of litigation, especially if the process goes to a manual recount, which would count only "overvotes" and "undervotes."

Undervotes refer to a ballot cast by a voter that does not appear to include a pick for one of the contests. Overvotes occur when a voter appears to have picked more than one candidate within a single contest.

Political observers say a sizable number of undervotes in Broward County, where voters cast a vote in the governor’s race but not the Senate contest, potentially happened because of ballot design.

Some voters said they missed voting in the Senate race because of its placement underneath the ballot instructions.

“We’re recounting 67 counties, in some ways anything can happen,” said Kathryn DePalo, a political science professor at Florida International University. “I still don’t think the numbers are there for Nelson to really overtake Scott’s lead.”

But DePalo added that the outcome remained very much in doubt, especially with the pending litigation.

“That’s why the rhetoric is ratcheted up,” she said.