TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The first ever statewide recount in Florida kicked off in earnest Sunday on a contentious note, with GOP Gov. Rick Scott sharpening his attacks on his opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson, in the razor-tight Senate race and filing a new round of lawsuits against Democratic election officials.
Hours after Scott took to national TV to accuse the Democratic senator of trying to "commit fraud to try to win this election," his campaign said it had filed lawsuits against Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher, the election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties, two Democratic strongholds. Democrats called it desperation by a candidate sitting on a precarious vote margin.
Both parties are watching the Florida results closely because the contest will determine the size of the GOP's Senate majority. The recounts might dredge up memories of the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W. Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, thus giving Bush the presidency.
Scott made his comments in an interview with Fox News that came after his lead shrunk to a little more than 12,000 votes. State officials said they have no evidence of criminal conduct in the still-unresolved Senate race.
Pressed on his fraud claim, Scott referred to a lawsuit that Nelson filed to re-examine ballots with questions about signatures. He also referenced an incident, being reported by conservative media, in which a lawyer claiming to represent Nelson objected in a public hearing to tossing out a provisional ballot from a noncitizen.
Nelson's lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, said in a statement that the lawyer at a meeting of election officials in Palm Beach County was "not someone we had authorized to make such an objection. Non-citizens cannot vote in U.S. elections."
Election officials are racing against the clock to machine-recount ballots before a Thursday deadline to present their findings, with most of the state's 67 counties beginning the task on Sunday. A more logistically complicated hand recount could follow.
That race, as well as the gubernatorial contest between GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, have attracted national attention, pitting candidates with sharply contrasting messages and embodying broader disputes between the two major parties during the Trump presidency.
The governor's comments came a day after Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee, formally ordered recounts in the races for Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner.
Scott's lead narrows
In the Senate contest, Scott's lead over Nelson has narrowed to 12,562 votes out of more than 8 million ballots cast, or a margin of 0.15 percent, according to an unofficial tally Saturday from the state. State law mandates a machine recount if the margin is half a percentage point or smaller.
The governor's race also has tightened, with DeSantis, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, ahead of Gillum by 0.41 percent. If it holds, the margin would fall short of the 0.25 percent threshold for a more involved manual recount.
If the margin in the Senate race holds, however, it would be slim enough to trigger a hand recount. In that scenario, officials would have three days to personally inspect ballots with over votes or under votes — ballots on which the voter selected no candidate or more than one candidate in the race. That could spark disputes over whether the voter intended to mark it that way or not.
The election results are slated to be certified on Nov. 20.
Nelson said Scott was operating from a position of desperation.
"If Rick Scott wanted to make sure every legal ballot is counted, he would not be suing to try and stop voters from having their legal ballot counted as intended," the senator said in a statement. "He's doing this for the same reason he's been making false and panicked claims about voter fraud — he's worried that when all the votes are counted he'll lose this election."