Rick Scott declares victory after Florida recount in Senate race

November 15, 2018

Florida’s GOP Gov. Rick Scott declared victory in his Senate bid for a second time Thursday after a state-mandated machine recount widened his lead over incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

But Mr. Nelson’s legal team, insisting there is not “one universe of votes,” vowed to press on Thursday evening and predicted they would eventually emerge as the winners.

Secretary of State Ken Drezner ordered the manual recount, which will involve hand reviewing all questionable, provisional, or mailed in ballots that, for one reason or another, had been rejected initially at the polling place or proved unreadable in the machine.

The manual recount applies only to the U.S. senate race and Florida’s agricultural commissioner, which is elected statewide.

The governor’s race did not fall within the manual recount threshold and thus it appears Republican Ron DeSantis will be certified as governor on Nov. 20.

While the election results are not official until certified by the secretary of state, a move that should come after the Elections Canvassing Commission’s meeting on Nov. 20, the unofficial recount grew Mr. Scott’s edge by 865 votes, leaving him with a margin of 13,427.

That’s a bigger edge than a recount in American history has overcome, but given more than 8 million votes were cast overall that figure leaves a margin of .001 of 1 percent, below the 0.25 of 1 percent threshold by which Florida law calls for a hand recount.

There are still potentially more votes. For example, while ballots from overseas military and civilians must be postmarked by Nov. 6 or earlier, the deadline for receiving them is Nov. 16. In addition, a flurry of court activity set in motion since Election Day leaves some ballots still in limbo.

“We never thought there was a silver bullet, one thing,” said Marc Elias, Mr. Nelson’s lead recount lawyer in a conference call with reporters. “There is not one universe where all these votes are coming from.”

In particular, Mr. Elias pointed to the upcoming hand recount, which he said, “very well may reverse it entirely.”

But the Democrats are also seeking to change Florida’s extant law, which they say contains an absurdity in that the extension granted to overseas voters does not apply to domestic voters who sent in ballots postmarked by Nov. 6.

Earlier Thursday U.S. District Judge Mark Walker extended the state deadline under which voters can clear up questions about their mailed in or provisional ballots, usually raised by signature issues. The “cures,” for these ballots, to use Florida’s term for them, is now 5 p.m. Saturday, under the terms of Judge Walker’s ruling.

Mr. Scott appealed that ruling but it was upheld by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals just after 5 p.m.

The issue of voters’ signatures caused Mr. Nelson’s campaign to sound like a boardwalk hawker in a fundraising blast Thursday afternoon.

“Has your signature changed over the years since you first registered to vote?” the fundraising e-mail read. “Have a disability that affects your handwriting? Suffer from eyesight loss? Changed your last name? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, then you could be denied your right to vote and that’s why our legal challenge of this disenfranchisement law is so important.”

Mr. Elias defended the poring over signatures and the divining of voter intent that will take center stage over the next 48 hours or so as a crucial element of ensuring “every vote is counted.”

Judge Walker did brush aside a broader request from Mr. Nelson’s attorneys to extend Florida’s 3 p.m. for the deadline on reporting the machine recounts, calling the state “a laughingstock,” in remarks from the bench.

The Democratic supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County, Susan Bucher, had claimed machine malfunctions were making it hard for her to hit the deadline but eventually claimed to have done so in the senate race.

Like her counterpart in neighboring Broward County, Democratic election supervisor Brenda Snipes, Ms. Bucher’s operation has come under heavy criticism for its inability to match the performance of Florida’s other 65 counties, all of which reported no difficulty recording their votes even in those areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael in October.

“We gave it everything we had,” Ms. Bucher told reporters right after the deadline. I’m very proud of my team. We reported real results, we counted every ballot.”

While Mr. Nelson continued to enjoy a big lead in heavily Democratic Broward County, he actually lost more votes in the machine recount than Mr. Scott did, according to county officials.

Nevertheless, it is in Broward County’s rich Democratic fields that Mr. Nelson’s team believes it will still hit paydirt. There are nearly 2,000 “undervotes” there that need to be reviewed, and between Broward and other counties there are “tens of thousands or higher” ballots that should be carefully scrutinized, according to Mr. Elias.

The Democrats have amassed an army of 30,000 volunteers to police the manual recount process, while the Scott campaign said it would field more than 17,000.

Mr. Nelson has insisted he only wants to ensure all votes are counted. The senator seeking a fourth term has been largely invisible since Election Day Nov. 6, has insisted in two taped statements and a brief appearance with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in Washington.

Republicans have been forthright in accusing Mr. Nelson and his lawyers of trying to steal the election, and playing a long game to lay the legal groundwork for any challenges to the 2020 presidential election.

“Everyone knows how this is going to end,” Scott for Florida spokesman Chris Hartline said Thursday afternoon. “Everyone’s in on the joke here. What the Democrats want to do here is throw out all the fraud protections on the books, not re-elect Bill Nelson.”

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