Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, demanded Monday that Gov. Rick Scott recuse himself from any involvement in the recount of their bitter race for Mr. Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat, which Mr. Scott leads but by a margin that is close enough for an automatic recount.
Mr. Nelson accused the governor of throwing his weight around to influence events.
“He should remove himself from any role in the recount process so the people can have confidence in the integrity of the election,” Mr. Nelson said in a videotaped statement. “Given his efforts to undermine the votes of Floridians, this is the only way that we can ensure that the people’s votes are protected.”
Complementing Mr. Nelson’s effort was a lawsuit from the leftist groups Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, who went to federal court Monday to reinforce a letter they sent to Mr. Scott over the weekend requesting his recusal.
In response, Mr. Scott’s team said Mr. Nelson is “confused,” because the governor has no role in the recount.
“The recount is being managed by the individual and independent Supervisors of Elections in all 67 counties,” said Lauren Schenone, a Scott for Florida spokeswoman. “If Bill Nelson has an issue with the way the recount is being run, he should take it up with them.”
Earlier Monday, Mr. Scott again declared himself the winner, and his campaign said the governor is already turning his attention toward the move from Tallahassee to Washington. This week, Mr. Scott will fly to the U.S. Capitol to participate in new member orientation, his campaign said.
But Mr. Nelson and his attorneys believe both the declaration and any move are premature.
“He’s filed lawsuits to try to stop votes from being counted and to impound voting machines,” Mr. Nelson said. “The reason he’s doing these things is obvious. He’s worried when all the votes are counted, he’ll lose the election.”
Last Friday, Mr. Scott filed two emergency motions in state court to force the Democratic election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties to abide by state laws that required them to post periodic updates on how many ballots they have in hand and how many they have left to count, statutory guidelines both Democratic-leaning counties ignored as they continued counting votes for more than three days after the polls closed.
In another Broward County action, Mr. Scott asked the courts to order the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and local sheriff’s offices to take control of the machines in Broward and Palm Beach counties. While the court did order additional law enforcement officials to be on hand for the recounts, it stopped short of taking the machinery out of the hands of local election officials, leaving both sides claiming victory.
In a conference call with reporters Monday evening, Mr. Nelson’s lead recount attorney Marc Elias described the governor’s actions as “erratic,” and accused him of seeking to tamper with the recount.
“What we’ve seen are frivolous and spurious accusations aimed at undermining the integrity of the election,” Mr. Elias said.
But Republican officials including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio insist the actions taken by Democratic supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties are atypical, and particularly inexplicable given counties such as Miami-Dade, which had many thousands more votes, or those in the Panhandle, which were hammered by Hurricane Michael last month, all managed to complete their work within all legal deadlines.
At the moment, Mr. Scott’s margin stands at 12,562, a figure well within the threshold for a mandated machine recount (0.5 percent), but larger than any margin a losing candidate has ever overcome in a recount, according to the Scott campaign.