Florida’s bitter recount battle lurches toward deadline
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With time running out, Florida’s election recount drama lurched forward Wednesday amid a maelstrom of courtroom arguments, broken machines, allegations of irregularities, and President Trump’s ongoing criticism.
Many counties have wrapped up their machine recount ahead of a Thursday deadline to complete reviews of the US Senate and governor races, but larger Democratic strongholds are still racing to meet the deadline.
Republican Governor Rick Scott agreed to step down from the state panel responsible for certifying the final results. Scott is locked in a tight race with US Senator Bill Nelson and has already suggested fraud may be taking place in some counties. Critics have said Scott should have no role in overseeing the election given his close contest.
Trump, who has already lashed out over the recount, added to the growing partisan firestorm by arguing without evidence that some people unlawfully participated in the election by dressing in disguise.
‘‘When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles,’’ Trump said in an interview with The Daily Caller published Wednesday. ‘‘Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again.’’
The state elections department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, both run by Republican appointees, have said they haven’t seen any evidence of voter fraud of this sort.
Adding to the fray, however, a top attorney at the Florida Department of State sent a letter last week asking federal prosecutors to investigate whether Democrats distributed false information that could have resulted in voters having mail-in ballots disqualified.
Four county supervisors turned over information that showed Democratic Party operatives changed official forms to say that voters had until two days after the election to fix any problems with mail-in ballot signatures. Under current law, a voter has until the day before Election Day to fix a problem.
Meanwhile, problems continue to arise in Palm Beach County, where tallying machines have overheated. That’s caused mismatched results with the recount of 174,000 early voting ballots, forcing workers to go back and redo their work with no time to spare.
‘‘The machines are old,’’ said Susan Bucher, supervisor of elections. She said they underwent maintenance right before the election. ‘‘I don’t think they were designed to work 24/7 — kind of like running an old car from here to L.A. And so, you know, things happen to them.’’
Right now, Palm Beach County looks like it could miss the Thursday deadline, even though Nelson and Democrats filed lawsuits seeking to suspend it.
Lawyers for Democrats also asked a federal judge Wednesday to set aside the state law mandating that mailed-in votes be thrown out if the signature on the envelope doesn’t match the signature on file.
No less than six federal lawsuits have been filed so far in Tallahassee. Nelson’s campaign has also filed a lawsuit seeking public records from a north Florida elections supervisor who allowed voters in GOP-heavy Bay County to email their ballots in apparent violation of state law.