‘Laughing Stock of The World’: Judge Allows Voters Chance to Fix Ballot Signatures, Won’t Extend Recount Deadline as Broward Finishes Machine Recount

Palm Beach fails to meet state's recount deadline

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  • Workers put the last ballots to be counted through machines at election headquarters in Lauderhill around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night.

A federal judge is refusing to suspend looming election recount deadlines in the battleground state of Florida.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Thursday rejected a request by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Democrats to give counties more time to finish recounts. All 67 counties were required to submit the results of a machine recount by 3 p.m.

Shortly after the deadline passed, Palm Beach's election supervisor told reporters her county was not able to finish on time.

In his ruling, Walker said he was concerned that some counties may not complete their work by the deadline. But he said there is a lack of information on when Palm Beach County would wrap up its work.

Walker said he cannot "fashion a remedy in the dark."

Meanwhile, after days of being in the national spotlight and being criticized by everyone from candidates to protesters from both major political parties, Broward County completed their machine recount of votes for three offices in the 2018 election ahead of Thursday’s deadline.

Workers put the last ballots to be counted through machines at election headquarters in Lauderhill around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night. Officials spent the remaining time before the 3 p.m. deadline Thursday going through ballots that were mailed in or not able to be read by the machines.

At the same time, the county’s elections supervisor Dr. Brenda Snipes will be the subject of two court hearings Thursday – one from current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who holds a razor thin lead in the race for U.S. Senate. Scott was in Washington D.C. on Wednesday with other Republicans who had been elected to the chamber, even though he has not been declared the winner over incumbent Nelson.

The second case will involve the Republican candidate for agriculture commissioner, Matt Caldwell, who saw his election night lead over Democrat Nikki Fried evaporate as the statewide recount commenced.

Earlier in the day, Walker slammed Florida for repeatedly failing to anticipate election problems, and said the state law on recounts appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided the presidency in 2000.

"We have we have been the laughing stock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this," Walker said in court.

Walker vented his anger at state lawmakers but also Palm Beach County officials, saying they should have made sure they had enough equipment in place to handle this kind of a recount. Walker also said he's not happy about the idea of extending recount deadlines without limit.

The overarching problem was created by the Florida Legislature, which Walker said passed a recount law that appears to run afoul of the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, by locking in procedures that don't allow for potential problems.

A total of six election-related lawsuits are pending in Tallahassee. Earlier Thursday, Walker ordered that voters be given until 5 p.m. Saturday to show a valid identification and fix their ballots if they haven't been counted due to mismatched signatures.

Nelson and Democrats have argued election officials aren't handwriting experts and should not be allowed to throw out ballots because of the mismatch.

State officials testified in court that nearly 4,000 ballots have already been rejected because local canvassing boards decided the signature that was mailed-in doesn't match the signature on file.

The campaign for Scott immediately said they would appeal the "baseless" decision.

"Bill Nelson’s high-priced Washington lawyers went to court to argue against a process that they previously argued for," the statement read in part. "Another day, another chance for (Nelson lawyer) Marc Elias to rack up massive legal fees regardless of the blatant hypocrisy… or the damage this will do to Bill Nelson’s legacy.”

The machine recount – required by state law for any race where the difference is less than .5 of a percentage point – may essentially bring a conclusion to the governor's race, where Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points in unofficial results.

While some counties like Miami-Dade and Broward finished before the deadline, some counties such as the Democratic stronghold of Palm Beach County, have warned that they may not be able to make the deadline. Lawsuits that could spur further delays are still swirling, including one filed by Nelson and Democrats that seeks to set aside the looming deadline.

Still, more than a week after Election Day, the sense of resolution could be lacking Thursday. Once the machine recount is complete, state law requires a hand review of races with margins of less than 0.25 percentage points. That means the Senate race, where unofficial results have Scott ahead of Nelson by 0.14 percentage points, is almost certain to go to another recount that will last through the weekend.

Nelson, a three-time incumbent, has defended his legal strategy, saying in a statement Wednesday that "it remains the most important goal of my campaign to make sure that every lawful vote be counted correctly in this Senate race, and that Floridians' right to participate in this process is protected."

But Republicans have criticized the effort, saying Democrats are trying to change election rules once the voting was complete. Republicans have filed their own lawsuits and fought back against Nelson and Democrats.

"We will continue to fight to defend Florida law and uphold the will of the voters," said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Scott.

That legal fight will continue again Thursday with hearings scheduled in federal court in two of the six outstanding lawsuits pending in Tallahassee.

The developments are fueling frustrations among Democrats and Republicans alike. Democrats have urged state officials to do whatever it takes to make sure every vote is counted. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have argued without evidence that voter fraud threatens to steal races from the GOP.

Another big question looming Thursday is whether all counties will finish the machine recount. Tallying machines overheated earlier this week in Palm Beach County. That caused mismatched results with the recount of 174,000 early voting ballots, forcing staffers to go back and redo their work.

Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said the machines underwent maintenance right before the election, but "I don't think they were designed to work 24/7."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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