On election night on Tuesday, it seemed Republican Gov. Rick Scott had won a narrow victory over incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for a hotly contested Senate seat in Florida. But since then, previously untallied ballots have trickled in from Democrat-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties. By Thursday evening, the margin between Scott and Nelson had tightened to .18 percent — well within the margin for an automatic recount.
Scott is not taking this development well — and neither are other prominent Republicans, including President Donald Trump, who are blaming a vast conspiracy involving Hillary Clinton’s lawyer for the narrowing vote tally.
Thursday evening, Scott held a news conference calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and announced he had filed a lawsuit against top election officials in each of them.
“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott said. “Their goal is to keep mysteriously finding votes until the election turns out the way they want … left-wing activists have been coming up with more and more ballots out of nowhere.”
As the Miami Herald notes, “Scott took the unusual step of delivering a partisan political attack from his taxpayer-funded residence, which is usually reserved for official state events.”
Scott’s lawsuit, which was filed in his capacity as a candidate, alleges that Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher violated public records law by refusing to “release details on voting tabulations and hindering the processing of absentee ballots, respectively,” the Herald adds.
Scott merely raised suspicion that delays in counting ballots are due to misconduct — he didn’t present any evidence that it actually occurred. But within hours of his news conference, President Trump weighed in with a tweet in which he categorically characterized the counting of ballots as “another big corruptions scandal having to do with Election Fraud,” and asserted that “Florida voted for Rick Scott!”
Law Enforcement is looking into another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach. Florida voted for Rick Scott!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
Less than 10 minutes later, Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, accused lawyers for Nelson of “trying to steal the election,” tweeting that “Court should disqualify votes counted only after all other counties were finished.”
Giuliani’s tweet referred to “Hillary’s lawyers.” A lawyer for Nelson, Marc Elias, worked as general counsel for Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Hillary’s lawyers trying to steal Florida election. They are still counting(or creating)ballots just in Democratic Broward and Palm Beach. All other votes counted in the state. Court should disqualify votes counted only after all other counties were finished.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) November 9, 2018
Despite what Giuliani would have you believe, there’s no legal basis for claiming that voters should be disenfranchised because they cast ballots in a county that tabulates more slowly than others.
Right around the same time Trump and Giuliani were posting those tweets, Scott was on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. During the interview, Hannity alleged, also without presenting evidence, that “somebody needs to go to jail” over the situation in Florida.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Hannity said. “It’s obviously corrupt, obviously laws were broken, obviously there are shenanigans here. I believe you and Sen. [Marco] Rubio [R-FL] are 100 percent correct. We will follow this every single second of every day now, because the people of Florida deserve their just vote, which they got. And you won this race hands down.”
Sean Hannity just said “somebody needs to go to jail” for trying to count all the votes in Florida pic.twitter.com/uoWyiovfHq
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) November 9, 2018
“This is a disgrace that they get to do this election in and election out,” added Hannity. “Somebody needs to go to jail here, if this keeps happening. You keep violating the law — you don’t respond, every other county responds, then you change your numbers again and again and again — something’s not right.”
Scott nodded along.
Rubio went as far as to tweet out a video suggesting that malfeasance occurred in Florida originally posted by Tim Canova. Canova is a failed congressional candidate perhaps best known for pushing the baseless conspiracy theory that then-Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered because he, and not Russian hackers, leaked information to WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.
This video,posted by an Independent Cong candidate in 18 (who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders in 16) purports to show BrowardCounty ballots being transported from polling places in private cars.
Has anyone in local media looked into this claim or asked elections dept about it? https://t.co/1JztfdRudn
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 9, 2018
During a news conference on Friday, Trump went a step further, asserting that Rick Scott and Fusion GPS are conspiring to steal the election in Florida.
“Then you see the people, and they were involved with that fraud of the fake dossier, the phony dossier, and I guess I hear they were somehow involved or worked with the GPS Fusion [sic] people, who have committed — I mean you look at what they done, you look at the dishonesty,” Trump said.
“Look, look — there’s bad things have gone on in Broward County, really bad things … I say this — [Scott] easily won, but every hour it seems to be going down. I think people have to look at it very very cautiously.”
Trump suggests Senate Seat is Being Stolen from Rick Scott by Fusion GPS. pic.twitter.com/5OIhMNKcws
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 9, 2018
As mentioned previously, Nelson’s lawyer, Elias, worked for the Clinton campaign, which retained Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump. Fusion, in turn, hired Christopher Steele, the former British spy who put together a mostly uncorroborated dossier alleging that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia.
Election issues are one thing. Alleging a massive conspiracy is at work is another.
It’s true that Broward County has lagged behind the rest of Florida in tabulating ballots. It is also true that there are questions about how carefully and thoroughly election officials are doing their jobs.
For instance, as CNN details, a box marked “provisional ballots” was mysteriously found by a teacher at a school in the country on Thursday. The teacher alerted a state representative, who contacted the Broward Elections Department. An elections official told the teacher that the box contained “ballot paper,” but didn’t provide the representative with any information about how they could possibly know what’s in the box without seeing it.
It also appears the design of ballots in Broward County may have resulted in a relatively high proportion of voters not casting a vote in the Senate race. And it’s unclear why Broward County elections officials have reported different numbers about the total numbers of ballots cast.
But there is no evidence that these issues stem from a Democratic conspiracy to rig the election. There’s also no good reason voters who cast ballots in counties that have difficulties counting ballots should be disenfranchised — other than that Republicans want counting to stop while they’re still ahead.
A state recount looms
On Friday morning, Elias tweeted that the margin between Nelson and Scott continues to close.
UPDATE: The Florida Senate election margin has further narrowed–it is now a mere 15,068 votes or .18%. As the counties continue their work, I expect that margin will narrow further. And then the State will conduct an orderly recount. https://t.co/Yxuxw8wDlj
— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) November 9, 2018
As Vox noted on Thursday, Elias has a reputation for calling it like he sees it. In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, when he was general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Elias acknowledged that Clinton couldn’t win via a recount.
“The number of votes separating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the closest of these states — Michigan — well exceeds the largest margin ever overcome in a recount,” Elias said at the time.
A spokesperson for Nelson, Dan McLaughlin, said in a statement that “the goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately,” adding that Scott’s news conference and call for a criminal investigation “appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation.”
More Info: vox.com