Florida has made a disturbing return to the election spotlight 18 years after the drama that launched George W Bush‘s presidency, as the state braces for race recounts amid accusations of corruption and voting discrepancies.
Two races in the southeastern state, for governor and U.S. Senate, hung in the balance Friday, three days after the contentious midterm elections that saw Democrats seize control of the House of Representatives from President Donald Trump‘s Republicans.
Most U.S. political races have already been settled. But Florida’s ballot chaos — rife with intrigue and Trump’s accusation of abuse by officials in Democrat-heavy counties — raises fresh questions about why the world’s most powerful democracy is incapable of producing swift and accurate election results across all 50 states.
Florida is not alone. In neighboring Georgia, the Democratic candidate for governor initiated legal action to ensure all votes were counted in her contest.
In Arizona, hundreds of thousands of ballots were still left to be counted in a fierce battle for the Senate as Kyrsten Sinema — currently a Democratic congresswoman — edged ahead of Martha McSally, a Republican congresswoman.
Florida’s Governor Rick Scott, the Republican challenging incumbent Senate Democrat Bill Nelson, filed a lawsuit against two election officials alleging fraud after his lead narrowed.
His race, and the one for governor, appear headed for mandatory recounts, which could delay a final outcome for days or weeks.
“The people of Florida deserve fairness and transparency,” Scott told reporters. “Every Floridian should be concerned there may be rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward Counties.”
Scott said he was ordering an official investigation into his own race.
With the developments raising partisan tensions to fresh highs, Trump weighed in to allege a major corruption scandal was brewing, while fellow Republican Marco Rubio of Florida accused Democrats of a coordinated effort to “steal the election.”
“What’s going on in Florida is a disgrace,” Trump told reporters.
Scott “easily won, but every hour it seems to be going down,” he said of Scott’s lead which on Friday stood at 14,999 votes out of 8.2 million cast, a margin of just 0.18 percent.
“If you look at Broward County, they have had a horrible history,” Trump added, referring to a Democrat-heavy county where officials were slowly counting votes including absentee and provisional ballots.
When did I ask anyone to stop counting? And how is criticizing repeated election failures by same election official a fight to stop vote counting?
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 9, 2018
Broward was at the heart of Florida’s bitter legal brawls in 2000. That year’s recounts in Broward and other counties were halted by the U.S. Supreme Court, and George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by 537 votes in Florida, giving him the edge in the electoral college and handing him the White House.
Scott’s lawsuits alleged a lack of transparency over the counting process and asked that further details be made public.
Rancor was spilling into governors’ races, where Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia were aiming to become the states’ first African-American leaders, but the contests were tilting in favor of their Republican rivals.
Unofficial results show Gillum trailing Ron DeSantis, a Trump-endorsed Republican, by just 36,165 votes, or 0.44 percentage points.
State law mandates a recount if the difference in a race is within 0.5 percent. If the margin is within 0.25 percent, as it stood in the Senate race, a hand recount — slower and more thorough than by machine — is ordered.
— The Hill (@thehill) November 9, 2018
David Lublin, a professor of government at American University, dismissed suggestions that corruption was to blame, and said the latest statements by Trump and Scott “are highly irresponsible.”
Broward County officials were simply taking deliberative steps to count all ballots, including absentee and provisional ones, he said.
“The good news is that since the 2000 election, the process has improved both in terms of how people vote in Florida and the designation of a recount,” he said.
And yet unusual voting discrepancies were being reported in Broward.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel said it analyzed voting patterns and found that of Broward ballots already counted, thousands made the unlikely choice of voting in lower-profile contests like for agriculture commissioner, but not for Senate, the marquee race on the ballot.
The unusual pattern appeared in no other Florida county, the newspaper reported.
Experts including lawyer Lawrence Norden have turned to a possible flaw with the ballot’s design.
“If this is the cause of lost votes, it is incredibly frustrating that somehow the state hasn’t gotten its act together to make sure ballots are designed in a way that don’t cause lost votes,” he told the Sentinel.