Florida's Recount Triggered a Flurry of Lawsuits. Here's a Recap

(Bloomberg) -- Statewide recounts are underway in Florida races for governor and U.S. Senate, and lawyers for the candidates have filed a flurry of lawsuits to shape the legal narrative.

In the Senate race, Republican Rick Scott was edging Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson by about 12,600 votes, while Republican Ron DeSantis led Democrat Andrew Gillum in the governor’s race by about 33,700 -- both within the 0.5 percentage point margin to trigger a re-tabulation. The race for agriculture commissioner also hung in the balance.

The counts could turn on the outcomes of several court cases. Here is a roundup of legal actions that could affect the vote in America’s largest swing state.

Democrats’ Lawsuits

Nelson went to federal court in Tallahassee over provisional and mail-in ballots that were rejected over perceived mismatches in voter signatures.

VOTES AT STAKE: Potentially thousands, according to Nelson’s lawyer

  • On Thursday, Nelson sued the state seeking a court order that all such ballots be tallied even though state law allows county election workers to toss out ballots if they don’t believe the signature on the envelope matches the one in voter registration records.
  • The senator on Monday included two affidavits from voters who say their mail-in ballots were rejected over allegedly mismatched signatures and that they weren’t alerted to the decision until on or after election day. In both cases, according to the affidavits, the voters attempted to address the issue with copies of their identification but were rejected.
  • Nelson’s lawyers say the signature-mismatch provision of state law disenfranchises older people, new voters and people of color, and that decisions are made arbitrarily and without any statewide standard by election workers who may not be experts in signature analysis.
  • Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, joined the lawsuit in defense of state law, saying Nelson waited too long to bring the challenge and that a federal court shouldn’t interject itself into election proceedings.

Detzner Sued

The Democratic National Committee sued Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Monday, seeking a court order that mail-in ballots received after 7 p.m. on election day be counted. They said the current Florida law, which states it doesn’t matter when ballots are postmarked if they don’t arrive on time, is unconstitutional because it infringes on the right to vote.

VOTES AT STAKE: Potentially thousands, according to Democrats

  • Prior to the lawsuits, news reports surfaced suggesting some extreme circumstances -- such as the pipe bombs sent from South Florida -- might have affected the arrival of mail-in ballots. The U.S. Postal Service later denied that was the case, but the reports were still cited in the DNC suit’s footnotes.
  • The DNC said 3.5 million Floridians asked to vote by mail, but 874,818 ballots hadn’t been received and accounted for as of Nov. 8.
  • The lawsuit also noted an inconsistency: Overseas voters are counted as long as they are postmarked by election day and received within 10 days, so a vote-by-mail Floridian in London has more leeway than one in Miami.

Deadline Lawsuit

Nelson sued Tuesday seeking to extend the recount deadlines. Currently, the machine recounts must be finished by 3 p.m. on Nov. 15, and manual recounts must be done by noon on Nov. 18. If the recounts aren’t finished, the results revert back to the previously reported totals.

  • Local canvassing boards would be forced to “unconstitutionally reject the ballots” that were “improperly rejected due to voting machine error” on election night if they’re unable to meet the deadlines, Nelson said in the complaint, filed in Tallahassee federal court.

Republicans’ Lawsuits

  • In two lawsuits filed on Nov. 8, Scott accused Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher -- Broward and Palm Beach election supervisors, respectively -- of violating state law governing the handling of absentee ballots.

VOTES AT STAKE: Unclear

  • According to one lawsuit, Snipes violated Florida’s public records law by failing to provide the Scott campaign a total count of early votes and absentee ballots by election day.
  • Broward County Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ordered Snipes to immediately release the voter information.
  • In the complaint against Bucher, Scott accused the Palm Beach elections chief of refusing to allow representatives into the ballot-counting area, and having staff members determine a voter’s intent without review by the county canvassing board.
  • West Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Krista Marx granted an injunction ordering Bucher to submit over-voted and under-voted absentee ballots -- those on which too many or too few bubbles were filled in, respectively -- to the county’s canvassing board for review of each vote before they are counted.
  • On Saturday, Scott filed another complaint against Snipes demanding that any ballots that were not included in the unofficial count submitted by a noon deadline should not be added.
  • The campaign is also requesting ballots fitting that description be separated from the official count due on Nov. 18.

Additional Scott Lawsuits

The following morning, Scott submitted two more lawsuits against Snipes and Bucher. In both cases, Scott requested that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement impound all vote-counting machines and ballots when they’re not in use during the recount.

VOTES AT STAKE: Unclear

  • Scott’s lawyers argued that securing the machines and ballots would restore eroding public trust in the outcome of the election, while making sure Snipes and Bucher don’t destroy any evidence of potential crimes. 
  • However, Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter rejected Scott’s request to confiscate equipment and ballots from Snipes, asserting that there was no evidence of counting fraud. Instead, Tuter ordered that three deputies were to be added to the team of Broward cops and private security guards overseeing the recount. Tuter warned lawyers on the Republican and Democratic sides to tamp down the political rhetoric. 

Other Lawsuits

  • Common Cause Florida and the League of Women Voters sued asking Scott, in his capacity as governor, to recuse himself from the process, echoing calls Nelson has made.
  • Snipes is also being sued by the campaign of Matt Caldwell, the Republican candidate for agriculture commissioner.
  • Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen originally told an NBC affiliate that he took 147 ballots by email from voters who were displace by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle jurisdiction. An executive order had made certain allowances for hurricane-victim voters, but the order specifically said: "Voting by fax or email is not an option."

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