Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio called what was happening in his state “an outrage” Friday night, as questions continued to swirl around the Senate and gubernatorial vote in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
Days after the deadline for early voting and the closing of polls on Election Day, officials in those two counties continued to make sporadic announcements of new vote counts, but the process has been opaque. Neither the number of votes that were ever available to count or that remain to be counted has even been made clear, according to Mr. Rubio and attorneys involved in the process.
At the moment, GOP Gov. Rick Scott continues to cling to a small lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. The Scott campaign says Mr. Nelson’s legal team is trying to steal the election, while the Nelson campaign insists they simply want every vote counted.
In a conference call arranged by the Scott campaign Friday night, Mr. Rubio insisted the process in those counties has raised serious questions from the chain of custody of ballots, to the counting of them, and to the unwillingness or inability of elections supervisors to keep the public informed about what they were doing.
“I’m concerned about everything,” he said. “Here we are, 72 hours from the end of voting, 5 days from the end of early voting, and we still have massive vote counts going on, apparently, in Palm Beach and Broward counties. To this point there’s been no public disclosure of how many votes are in their possession and how many do we have to count. It’s an outrage.”
In what he claimed is a clear violation of state law, the Democratic supervisors in those counties last updated their figures at 10:19 a.m. Friday in Palm Beach County and Thursday night in Broward.
In Broward County, for example, the number of ballots has increased by nearly 90 percent from figures county officials released on Nov. 6, according to the Scott campaign.
“People are pretending this is some sort of usual practice – it isn’t,” Mr. Rubio said. “Their behavior has allowed serious questions to arise.”
The ongoing accounts have whittled Mr. Scott’s lead from roughly 60,000 on Election Night to slightly more than 15,000 late Friday.
Following emergency court hearings Friday, district judges ordered the Democratic supervisors of elections – Susan Bucher in Palm Beach; Brenda Spikes in Broward – to open up their process, which had unfolded for days in relative secrecy.
Mr. Nelson’s attorneys insist he will prevail if the counting continues. Florida counties must deliver unofficial results Saturday. A margin of 0.5 of 1 percent should trigger a machine recount; a margin of 0.25 percent launches a hand recount.
Tim Cerio, an attorney with the Scott campaign, said he has spent the past few days in Broward County and “it’s not an overstatement to say it was a shocking experience.”
Some residents were appearing at the election office puzzled because they had been called by Democratic teams that told them their vote had not been counted, according to Mr. Cerio.
In addition, Ms. Snipes’ handling of hundreds of ballots that had been marked appropriate for rejection or counting was completely out of line, Mr. Cerio alleged, and one deadline after another seemed to pass without any new information on the number of votes in the building or remaining to be counted.
The canvassing board in Broward was working hard, according to Mr. Cerio, who attributed all the issues to Ms. Snipes and her staff which, he said, hovered over everything being done.
“It was really unacceptable and not transparent,” Mr. Cerio said. “I’m absolutely concerned about the ballots chain of custody.”
It is especially maddening for Floridians that these problems are occurring in Democratic strongholds and, at least in Broward County, have happened repeatedly, Mr. Rubio said. He said it was deeply suspicious that 65 of 67 Florida counties, some with more votes than either Broward or Palm Beach and some smashed by Hurricane Michael last month, have managed to complete all their work without incident.
“This isn’t about the ‘rhetoric on both sides,’” Mr. Rubio said in response to a reporter’s question. “This is a serious procedural problem. I’m concerned about everything there and we have reason to be.”