Democratic legal teams kicked into action Thursday, demanding a recount of the Florida Senate race that they say will declare Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson the winner as defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum hedging his concession.
Mr. Nelson already had signaled his intention to fight the results in his race with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, but Mr. Gillum’s surprise announcement further roils the electoral waters in the Sunshine State.
Former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, a strong ally of President Trump, beat Mr. Gillum, the liberal mayor of Tallahassee, in the unofficial results, and Mr. Gillum conceded shortly before midnight Tuesday.
But in a brief statement Thursday, he appeared to waffle on that.
“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count,” the statement read. “Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported. Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for an outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”
The statement provided no information on the size or location of the “uncounted ballots,” but they echoed claims made Thursday morning in a conference call the Nelson campaign arranged with Marc Elias, an election lawyer with the powerhouse Democratic firm of Perkins Coie.
Mr. Elias spoke of voting issues in traditionally liberal pockets that he says led to a significant undercount for Mr. Nelson’s total. Neither Mr. Elias nor the Gillum campaign accused poll officials of any wrongdoing, attributing possible irregularities to machines and overworked staff at polling stations. In addition, they offered no explanation for why the alleged problems and continuing vote counts appear to be occurring only in precincts that traditionally skew in favor of Democrats.
“We believe at the end of this process Sen. Nelson will be declared the winner and will be returned to the Senate,” Mr. Elias said.
The Scott campaign said bluntly that Mr. Elias was trying to steal the election.
“For Bill Nelson — the task is getting the ‘win’ … no matter what,” a statement from Mr. Scott’s camp read. “Let’s be clear: when Elias says ‘win,’ he means ‘steal.’”
In a Thursday evening press conference, Mr. Scott himself announced a lawsuit against Palm Beach and Broward counties, demanding immediate access to information the county was withholding about vote totals, saying the state’s voters should be concerned about “rampant fraud.”
“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election,” he said.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also questioned why, days after the election ended, both Broward and Palm Beach counties continue to find more previously uncounted Democratic votes.
“Latest ballots dumped by #Broward &/or #PalmBeach…shaved another 4k+ from Scott’s lead in Senate race,” Mr. Rubio tweeted Thursday. “Since 3 am Wed slow drip from these 2 Dem controlled counties cut Scott lead from 54 to 17K. And they refuse to disclose # of ballots they have left.”
Mr. Nelson appeared to be the loser following the vote between him and Mr. Scott, but with more than 8 million votes cast, the margin appears to be less than 0.5 of 1 percent, the threshold that would trigger a recount.
But should Mr. Nelson’s deficit shrink further — Mr. Elias insisted Mr. Scott led by 21,800 votes as the conference call unfolded — it would approach the 0.25 of 1 percent that he said would force a hand recount.
Mr. Elias was one of the lead attorneys for former Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who flipped his loss there to win the seat, and North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who initially lost but managed to flip that result, too, in 2016.
Some of what Mr. Elias discussed seemed reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election, in which the Florida results were in turmoil for weeks before George W. Bush was declared the winner.
Broward County, for example, figured prominently in Mr. Elias’ remarks, and he said there were oddities with the way votes were recorded. He spoke of “undercounts” and “calibration” issues that he said hurt Mr. Nelson’s total. In addition, Mr. Elias said some ballots cast in Miami by Hispanic or black voters were tossed out because of bogus signature issues, and that another 10,000 votes remained untallied in Palm Beach.
While Mr. Elias offered no precise figures on the votes during the conference call, he repeatedly said the totals at some point would be enough to put Mr. Nelson over Mr. Scott and return the Democrat to the Senate.
Mr. Elias said that in some of these liberal precincts, there was an inexplicable tendency for ballots to be heavy on the undercard and not the Senate race. While he acknowledged the Florida governor’s race was a big issue for many in the Sunshine State, he said it was improbable statistically that so many ballots would record a vote in that race or the lieutenant governor’s or attorney general’s race but not the Senate.
The unofficial results as of Thursday showed Mr. Nelson with 43,180 votes more than Mr. Scott.
If there is a recount — the secretary of state had not ordered one Thursday morning and is unlikely to do before the canvassing boards return their unofficial results by Nov. 10 — it would be overseen by Republican Ken Drezner, who was appointed by Mr. Scott.
That recount will provide Mr. Nelson with enough votes, Mr. Elias predicted, “and Gov. Scott and his billions of dollars aren’t going to able to do anything about that.”
“My predictions come true with a remarkable degree of accuracy,” Mr. Elias said.