FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida is once again at the center of election controversy, but this year there are no hanging chads or butterfly ballots, like in 2000. And no angry mobs in suits — at least not yet.
The deeply purple state will learn Saturday whether recounts will be held in the bitter, tight U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson; and in the governor’s race between former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum.
The state’s recount procedures have been revised since Florida held the country hostage for a month 18 years ago, when George W. Bush edged Al Gore for the presidency. Among other things, the infamous punch-card ballots are no longer.
Yet, Scott and President Donald Trump on Friday alleged fraud without evidence, even as the often-laborious process of reviewing ballots in a close race continued ahead of the Saturday noon deadline. Both Scott and Nelson sought to get the courts to intervene.
Scott said “unethical liberals” were trying to steal the election in Democratic strongholds of Broward and Palm Beach counties. He suggested something was awry because vote-counters were taking longer there than in other jurisdictions, and his thin lead has kept narrowing since election night. On Friday, he led by 0.21 percentage point, low enough to require a recount.
A recount is mandatory if the winning candidate’s margin is less than 0.5 percentage points when the first unofficial count is verified Saturday by Florida’s secretary of state. If the margin is less than 0.25 percent, the recount must be done by hand.
In Washington, Trump took Scott’s side, telling reporters that the federal government could get involved and adding: “All of the sudden, they are finding votes out of nowhere.”
“What’s going on in Florida is a disgrace,” he said.
Although the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said no allegations of fraud had been made, Scott asked — but did not order — the agency to investigate the counties’ elections departments. A spokeswoman for the agency said there were no credible allegations of fraud; therefore, no active investigation.
The governor, meanwhile, filed lawsuits in both counties seeking more information on how their ballots were being tallied. Nelson filed his own federal lawsuit Friday, seeking to postpone the Saturday deadline to submit unofficial election results.
A judge Friday sided with Scott and ordered Broward County’s election supervisor to release the voter information sought by the governor by 7 p.m.
The ruling came as the Broward Canvassing Board met to review ballots that had been initially deemed ineligible. Lawyers from the campaigns, journalists and citizens crowded into a room to observe.
The county has not answered questions about its process and how many votes it has left to count.
Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio suggested that Brenda Snipes, the Broward supervisor of elections, should be removed from office once the dust settles on the race. Rubio said Snipes’ failure to count all ballots in a more timely manner violates state law.
“She’s certainly a candidate for removal. … This is not one bad cycle, this is a pattern,” Rubio said in a conference call with reporters.
Nelson issued barbs of his own.
“No one should stand in the way of the people of our state exercising their right to vote and to have their voice heard,” the senator said in a statement. “Clearly, Rick Scott is trying to stop all the votes from being counted and he’s impeding the democratic process.”
In the undecided race for governor, DeSantis was leading by 0.47 percentage points. That margin, if it holds, would require a recount, but DeSantis has mostly stayed out of the fray, saying he was working on plans for taking office in January.
Gillum conceded on election night, but as the vote margin began to narrow, he said he wanted to see every vote counted, strongly indicating he would not stand in the way of a recount.
A third statewide race that could go to a recount — the agriculture commissioner race between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell — is the tightest of all, with Fried holding a 483-vote lead — a margin of 0.006 percent.
In 2000, Broward and Palm Beach each played central roles in the Bush-Gore race.
At the time, both counties used punch card ballots — voters poked out chads, leaving tiny holes in their ballots representing their candidates. Some didn’t press hard enough, leaving hanging or dimpled chads that had to be examined by hand, a long and tiresome process.
Palm Beach also was home to the infamous “butterfly ballot” that many Democrats believe cost Gore the election. An election official’s attempt to make the candidate’s names bigger and easier to read for senior citizens resulted in them being listed in two columns instead of one. Analysts later said the new redesign may have confused voters and probably cost Gore votes.
As for the angry mobs in suits: In late November 2000, Republican operatives in suits stormed the Miami-Dade canvassing board’s meeting, causing the members to permanently stop their recount, even after police officers restored order. The melee became known as “The Brooks Brothers Riot.”