Florida election recount nears deadline as Trump stirs the pot with baseless claim

  • Counties face 3pm ET deadline to wrap up machine recounts
  • Trump, without evidence, says people wear disguises to vote

Florida’s election recount reaches a pivotal point on Thursday as most counties across the state complete reviews that could determine the next senator and governor in one of America’s top political battlegrounds.

Many of the swing state’s 67 counties have finished running their ballots through tallying machines for a second time to decide US Senate and governor’s races but, more than a week after midterms election day, major Democratic strongholds are still struggling amid partisan recriminations, a barrage of lawsuits and untested allegations of fraud.

Barring a dramatic last-minute court-mandated extension, Florida counties face a 3pm ET deadline to wrap up their machine recounts. Some counties have warned that they may not be able to make the deadline.

On Wednesday, the US president once again stirred the pot by claiming – without evidence – that people wear disguises to vote illegally in Florida.

“The Republicans don’t win and that’s because of potentially illegal votes,” Trump told the conservative Daily Caller website. “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.”

He also called for new national ID laws with a bizarre assertion: “If you buy a box of cereal – you have a voter ID.”

The state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, running closely against the incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson for the Senate seat, has also asserted that the election is being stolen. The state elections department and the Florida department of law enforcement, both run by Republican appointees, deny seeing any evidence of fraud.

With the eyes of the political world on Florida, still haunted by Bush v Gore in the 2000 presidential election, the malaise deepened on Thursday when Susan Bucher, elections supervisor of Palm Beach county, admitted that it only has “a slim chance” of meeting the 3pm deadline because of dated technology.

Bucher and other officials were still feeding ballots into a machine that kept stopping and starting, the Washington Post reported. “We were very close to the end, and our machines went down,” she was quoted as saying.

There was some better news from Broward county, which said it had finished its recount except for fewer than 400 damaged ballots. The county’s elections supervisor Brenda Snipes has been the focus of fierce criticism.

But in a further complication, a federal judge ruled that at least 4,000 voters whose ballots were rejected because their signatures did not match will get two days to correct the problem.

Judge Mark Walker of the US District Court in Tallahassee ruled that the signature match rule was applied unlawfully because voters were given no chance to correct the discrepancy and prove their identity.

Marc Elias, lead recount lawyer for the Nelson campaign, welcomed the decision and said: “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.”

Scott’s campaign said it was appealing the decision. The Senate race between him and Nelson is so close that it is expected to move to a manual recount starting at 7am on Friday. The deadline is 12 noon on Sunday.

Eight million votes were cast in Florida and the counties’ deadline is Thursday at 3pm, pending court action by Democrats seeking to extend it. Indeed, the disputed election is proving a bonanza for lawyers on both sides. Six federal lawsuits have been filed so far in the state capital, Tallahassee.

State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points.

The machine recount may essentially bring a conclusion to the governor’s race. Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points in unofficial results, but the election won’t be certified until Tuesday. Scott has agreed to step down from the state panel responsible for certifying the final results.

State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. In the Senate race, Scott’s lead over Nelson was 0.14 points.

Yet on Wednesday, Scott was at the US Capitol in Washington, standing at Mitch McConnell’s left shoulder as the majority leader welcomed Republican senators who will take their seats in January when the new Congress is sworn in. He ignored a shouted question about whether he still contends there was fraud in the election.

Lawyers for Democrats asked a federal judge on Wednesday to set aside the state law mandating that mailed-in votes be thrown out if the signature on the envelope does not match the signature on file. Nelson’s campaign has also filed a lawsuit seeking public records from a north Florida elections supervisor who allowed voters in the Republican-heavy Bay county to email their ballots in apparent violation of state law.

The US district judge Mark Walker, referring to an episode of the science fiction series Star Trek, said during a hearing: “I feel a little bit like Captain Kirk in the episode with the Tribbles where they start to multiply.”


David Smith in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The GuardianTramp

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