2018 midterms

Florida Recounts Proceed Amid Wild GOP Claims of Election Stealing

Republican protesters claim, without much evidence, that Democrats are trying to steal Florida elections. Photo: Ian Witlen/REX/Shutterstock

Unofficial results for three statewide contests in Florida — for the U.S. Senate, governor, and state Agriculture Commissioner — showed winning margins within the half-percent that triggers a mandatory machine recount. So said recounts are underway, and are supposed to be completed by Thursday. These are about the only facts that are not in dispute in the wrangling over the midterm results in Florida. Of course, this all brings back bad memories of 2000 — but this time, it is accompanied by a Republican president shrieking about stolen elections and fraud.

Governor Rick Scott’s 12,562 vote lead over Senator Bill Nelson is almost certainly large enough to survive a machine recount, which rarely produces major changes in results. But it’s small enough that once the machine recount is over, state law will almost certainly require a hand recount, and that plays into a Democratic theory that in at least one county, Broward (Fort Lauderdale), some sort of machine calibration mistake produced a large undercount of Senate votes (i.e., an unusual number of ballots showing no votes at all for the Senate race). But Scott and other Republicans have been at war with Broward County’s longstanding Democratic election administrator, Brenda Snipes, and are alleging all sorts of irregularities in the handling of 2018 ballots, citing the county’s very late reporting (votes from Broward shrank Scott’s initially comfortable election night margin over the ensuing days) as suspicious. So even as the recount proceeds, the GOP is in court basically trying to wrest control of ballots and machines from Snipes. In addition, another Democratic-leaning county, Palm Beach, is indicating it will not be able to complete its machine recount by the deadline. That could lead to another wrangle in the courts, with Republicans arguing that the pre-recount numbers from Palm Beach should become official.

The GOP’s attacks on the Florida recount are in danger of getting out of hand, as the Associated Press reports:

Both the state elections division, which Scott runs, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have said they have found no evidence of voter fraud.

That didn’t stop protests outside Snipes’ office, where a mostly Republican crowd gathered, holding signs, listening to country music and occasionally chanting “lock her up,” referring to Snipes. A massive Trump 2020 flag flew over the parking lot and a Bikers For Trump group wore matching shirts. One protester wore a Hillary Clinton mask.

Never one to pass up the opportunity to pour gasoline on a fire, Donald Trump has weighed in with what amounts to a demand that Florida ignore its election laws:

As Harry Enten points out, all this hyperventilation is strange from a strategic perspective:

The GOP-generated brouhaha is not just casting doubt on the Senate results, but on Ron DeSantis’s lead over Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race, which is too large to trigger a hand recount. Gillum is suggesting a broad Republican effort to suppress votes after as well as before the election:

The Democratic candidate for Florida governor, Andrew Gillum, has told an overflow crowd at an African-American church that voter disenfranchisement isn’t just about being blocked from the polling booth.

Gillum said Sunday evening that disenfranchisement also includes absentee ballots not being counted and ballots where “a volunteer may have the option of looking at that ballot and deciding that vote is null and void” because of a mismatched signature.

Gillum warned against vote suppression at the close of a day of mishaps, protests and litigation overshadowing the vote recounting in the pivotal races for governor and the U.S. Senate. Gillum has argued each vote should be counted and the process should take its course.

In other words, the broader legitimacy of two elections Republicans were probably on their way to winning is coming into question. That makes you wonder if the GOP is trying to use events in Florida to reinforce its dubious claims of systemic illegal voting and ballot-box rigging by Democrats, for further use by Donald Trump in 2020.

Florida Recounts Proceed Amid Wild GOP Vote-Stealing Charges