Judge gives Florida voters two more days to correct ballot signature problems

Judge gives Florida voters two more days to correct ballot signature problems
© Greg Nash

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that voters whose mail-in and provisional ballots were rejected because of signature issues will have two additional days to resolve the problems and possibly get their votes included.

“The precise issue in this case is whether Florida’s law that allows county election officials to reject vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for mismatched signatures — with no standards, an illusory process to cure, and no process to challenge the rejection — passes constitutional muster,” Judge Mark Walker wrote in his decision. “The answer is simple. It does not.”

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The decision comes just ahead of the Thursday afternoon deadline for a machine recount.

The ruling will matter most in the state's still too-close-to-call Senate race, where Gov. Rick Scott (R) has a razor-thin lead over incumbent 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).

It will also affect the close gubernatorial race where former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDeath and destruction: A timeline of Hurricane Dorian How to take politics beyond charges of racism South Carolina gov declares state of emergency after Dorian shifts course MORE (R) has a little more breathing room over Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum (D), according to unofficial results.

Nelson's lead recount lawyer, Marc Elias, praised the decision in a statement to The Hill.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the people of Florida and for the Nelson campaign as we pursue our goal of making sure every legal ballot is counted," Elias wrote. "The court’s ruling impacts thousands of ballots, and that number will likely increase as larger counties like Broward add their ballots to the total pool which can be cured."

"We are taking several steps to ensure the rights of every Floridian are protected, and this is one major step forward.”

Scott's campaign will appeal the decision.

“We are immediately appealing this baseless decision and we are confident we will prevail in the Eleventh Circuit," Scott's press secretary, Lauren Schenone told The Hill in a statement. "Let’s be clear — Bill Nelson’s high-priced Washington lawyers went to court to argue against a process that they previously argued for."

Schenone specifically called out Nelson lawyer Elias for making what she says was a conflicting argument in an Arizona case and threatening Nelson's "legacy."

"It’s worth noting that Marc Elias is currently making THE EXACT OPPOSITE ARGUMENT in a similar case in Arizona," she added. "This also follows recent reports of the Democratic party encouraging and instructing voters to try to vote days after the legal deadline." 

"Another day, another chance for Marc Elias to rack up massive legal fees regardless of the blatant hypocrisy … or the damage this will do to Bill Nelson’s legacy."

Walker's decision comes in the midst of a series of lawsuits and courtroom activity around the contentious Senate race. 

Nelson has filed several lawsuits challenging how Florida election officials tabulate and evaluate ballots.

On Tuesday, he also asked a federal judge to delay the recount deadlines for his and other races in Florida.

Scott has taken his own legal action to ensure transparency in Broward and Palm Beach counties, where recounts are still taking place.

The courts ruled that the counties were not adequately transparent, but did not bring forth any evidence of election fraud.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it will not actively investigate either county, despite Scott's requests, because it has not received any credible allegations of fraud.

Still, Scott has accused Nelson and his team of trying to commit election fraud, specifically pointing to 93,000 ballots that were found after election night.

Florida law requires the total votes to be tallied within 30 minutes of the polls' close. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered recounts in three statewide races, including the Senate and gubernatorial races. 

"The laws are set up to stop fraud," Scott told Fox News.

Nelson has accused Scott of "trying to stop all the votes from being counted ... impeding the democratic process."

--Updated at 10:03 a.m.