Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott is watching his Nov. 7 Senate victory slip away in slow motion.
Scott declared triumph on Election Day after getting a 60,000-vote advantage over his opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Nelson had actually been routinely polling higher than Scott in the weeks leading up to the election, partly due to Scott’s complicity in pollution by Florida sugar growers, who aggravated a toxic red tide off the state’s coast. Democratic voters, who had ramped up their Get-Out-The-Vote efforts this year, were understandably shocked and disheartened at Scott’s unexpectedly-good showing.
By Friday, however, Scott was on Fox News decrying his shrinking advantage as absentee ballots continued to creep in. With a difference of 15,000 votes between them and thousands of potential votes to go, Nelson could easily surpass Scott. If not, the vote could be close enough to trigger an automatic statewide machine recount mandated by Florida law whenever the margin of victory falls within 0.5 percent. By Friday afternoon, Scott’s lead was just under 0.20 percent, and still falling—and with the brunt of tallies coming in from large urban areas that tend to vote Democrat. Smelling defeat, Scott announced a suit against Broward County and Palm Beach County alleging “rampant fraud,” and pushed to toss ballots.
Scott argues that “left-wing” activists are trying to “steal” his victory, and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate how the votes are getting counted. Marc Elias, who is Sen. Nelson’s attorney handling the recount, slapped back at Scott on Friday.
“This is not a third-world dictatorship,” Elias said. “We don’t let people seize ballots when they think they’re losing.”
Elias further stated that “it’s not appropriate for the governor of any state … to interject his law enforcement authority to prevent ballots being legally counted.”
Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Jeremy Burns said the agency was not investigating the election, having been presented no evidence of fraud by the Florida Secretary of State.
The fight comes down to a simple argument: Nelson wants every ballot counted. Scott does not. Nelson contests the state’s habit of tossing ballots because of mismatching signatures and has sued in federal court seeking to extend the deadline for counties to complete counting ballots. Scott’s campaign wants that deadline to stick, and complains that overlooking inconsistent-looking signatures is just begging for voter fraud
Nelson’s campaign, they claim, is “asking courts to overrule election officials and accept ballots that were not legally cast.”
But former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Florida) of Palm Beach, says he committed no fraud when he voted, yet his vote was still tossed by Palm Beach County officials because of the onerous nit-picking over signatures that Scott so dutifully endorses.
Hey @MarcACaputo, just saw notice from @PBCounty that my absentee ballot wasn’t counted due to ‘invalid signature’ match. Should be +1 @NelsonForSenate @AndrewGillum. Must overhaul these ridiculous barriers to voting #FloridaRecount #FLSen #FLGov
— Patrick Murphy (@PatrickMurphyFL) November 9, 2018
The competing arguments are an almost direct mirror of the infamous fight in 2000 that led to the Supreme Court halting a Florida recount in order to install Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush over then-Democratic candidate Al Gore. Then, as now, it is the GOP official who appears to fear his own voters and wants less of them weighing in on their election.
Legal scholars like Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, told Grit Post that shutting down any vote is anathema to the very idea of American democracy.
“Under the Constitution, every vote should be counted,” Chemerinsky told Grit Post.