Republican Gov. Rick Scott leads Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by 12,562 votes in the Florida Senate race. A margin of victory that large has never be overturned in a recount. According to FairVote, the average vote shift in statewide general election recounts is a meager 282 votes. "The biggest swing came in Florida's 2000 presidential election recount, when Al Gore cut 1,247 votes off George W. Bush's lead, ultimately not enough to flip the state to his column," according to a FiveThirtyEight report on what FairVote found.
So even if Nelson were to swing 10 times as many votes in this recount as Gore did in 2000, he would still come up short. Democrats know that recounting the existing votes is unlikely to change the result. So Democrats have filed a series of lawsuits asking courts to change Florida elections laws after the fact. The result would be that they can count ineligible votes in the hope that these will provide the margin necessary to overcome Scott's lead. For example, Florida statute mandates that, with the exception of overseas and military voters, vote-by-mail ballots are counted only if they are "received by the supervisor of elections not later than 7 p.m. on the day of the election." But Nelson has sued demanding that mail ballots that arrived after the 7 p.m. deadline to be counted as part of the recount.
Similarly, Florida law says mail and provisional ballots are counted only if the signatures on them match the signatures that elections offices have on record. If there is a signature mismatch, the voter is notified and can "complete and submit an affidavit in order to cure the vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on the day before the election" (emphasis added). But Democrats are asking a judge to throw that law out and count ballots with signatures that don't match the voter signature on file.
Federal prosecutors are investigating charges that Florida Democratic Party officials urged voters to fix their ballots after Election Day, including evidence that they changed official state election documents to indicate that ballots could be returned after the polls had closed. Initial reports indicated this was limited to a handful of counties, but a new report in the Naples Daily News has uncovered emails showing that "Florida Democrats were organizing a broader statewide effort beyond those counties to give voters the altered forms" with the goal to "fix and submit as many absentee ballots as possible with the altered forms in hopes of later including them in vote totals if a judge ruled such ballots were allowed."
Florida law also instructs the Department of State to "adopt specific rules ... prescribing what constitutes a 'clear indication on the ballot that the voter has made a definite choice.'" The Department of State has done so, providing clear standards for determining whether a voter intended to vote for a particular candidate. Now Democratic lawyers are asking a judge to order Florida to ignore this intent standard when reviewing "under votes," so they can add ballots that do not qualify under Florida law.
While national Democrats sue in the courts to change election law after the election, local Democratic officials running the recount are accused of engaging in serious irregularities. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Democrat-leaning Broward County submitted vote totals that include ballots disqualified by the canvassing board, while Palm Beach was rebuked by a judge after it duplicated 650 ballots without submitting them to canvassing board.
There is also evidence that officials in Democrat-leaning Broward Country have been dragging their feet in carrying out the recount. Miami-Dade -- the most populous county in the state -- was halfway done with its entire recount by Monday morning and easily met the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline required by law. But by Monday evening, Broward County had not yet started its recount. And on Thursday, Palm Beach failed to meet the legal deadline.
These counties' problems could have many different possible causes, including incompetence, or fraud, or both. But it's fair to ask whether these Democratic counties are intentionally slow rolling the recount to delay final election results in the hopes that Democratic lawsuits will work and that a judge will allow them to count ineligible votes in violation of state law. As Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., explained, "That isn't a strategy to win an election, that is a strategy to steal an election."
Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.
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