Republicans went on the offensive on Thursday as the race for three statewide offices in Florida tightened amid intense scrutiny over vote counting in Democrat-heavy Broward County.
“Broward election supervisors ongoing violation of Florida law requiring timely reporting isn’t just annoying incompetence,” Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted, referring to Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. “It has opened the door for lawyers to come here & try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate and Florida Cabinet.”
Rubio was referring to the races for state agriculture commissioner, where Democrat Nikki Fried opened up a tiny lead of 564 votes over Republican Matt Caldwell on Thursday afternoon, and the most expensive race in U.S. Senate history, between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson. Scott had a lead of 17,344 votes as of Thursday afternoon, within the threshold for a manual recount.
“Latest ballots dumped by Broward &/or Palm Beach flipped Ag. Comm race to Dem & shaved another 4k from Scott’s lead in Senate race,” Rubio tweeted. “Since 3am 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.”
At 5 p.m. Thursday, Snipes said Broward County finished counting early-voting ballots, with only mail-in ballots and provisional ballots remaining. Snipes said the county would finish counting ballots “soon.” Snipes added that the county has accepted 205 of 600 provisional ballots so far.
Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said her office will finish counting about 3,500 remaining ballots by late Friday afternoon.
Scott’s campaign characterized Nelson’s hiring of election lawyer Marc Elias to lead his recount effort as “a hired gun from Washington, D.C., who will try to win an election for Nelson that Nelson has already lost.”
And Republican Ron DeSantis, speaking to reporters in Hialeah Gardens, said he was “looking forward to serving.” DeSantis’ governor race also fell within the threshold for a machine recount with Democrat Andrew Gillum on Thursday, though DeSantis has a bigger cushion than Scott.
“I’m proud to have been elected on Tuesday night. It’s a great honor,” DeSantis said. “We’re working really hard on the transition. We’ll let the lawyers do what they got to do but we’re good. Looking forward to serving.”
Snipes is no stranger to controversy. A court ruled in May that she illegally destroyed ballots from a 2016 congressional race and the state announced that it would send election experts to Broward County to make sure that laws are followed.
As Rubio tweeted that “Democrat lawyers are descending on Florida... to change the results of the election.” Broward Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose 2016 Democratic primary against Tim Canova was the subject of this year’s court ruling against Snipes, said that Republican criticism of the vote-counting process does a disservice to voters while ballots are still being counted.
“I spent today helping voters make sure that they know how to get their vote counted, not spending time being political and stopping votes from being counted,” Wasserman Schultz said. “That’s not really surprising because that’s been the consistent MO of the way Republicans in this state treat the recount process.”
Wasserman Schultz said that her only priority is making sure that every single vote in Broward County is property counted, and that determining what went wrong with the county’s vote-counting process can happen later.
“The time for determining, you know, if anything went wrong or what issues need to be addressed is after we complete the electoral process,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Her biggest concern at this point is that election supervisors in 44 counties didn’t publicly reveal lists of voters who submitted provisional ballots, and that most of those counties have Republican election supervisors.
“One thing that will need to be addressed after the process is completed is how you treat the identity of a voter who cast a provisional ballot,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Voter information is public and that’s how each party has a voter file. When you vote on a provisional ballot that should not be treated any differently.”
Elias, Nelson’s election lawyer, is confident that more mistakes will be found during a hand recount that could change the results of Nelson’s race. Multiple election prognosticators moved Florida’s Senate race from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican” two days after Election Day due to the looming recount.
“When, at the end of the day, all eligible voters have their votes counted and counted accurately, the fundamental truth that we’re going to learn is that more voters voted for Sen. Nelson than for Gov. Scott,” Elias said.
Miami Herald staff writers Alex Harris and Martin Vassolo contributed to this report.