FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – President Donald Trump sought to intervene in Florida’s legally-mandated vote recount Tuesday, calling on the state’s Democratic senator to admit defeat and again implying without evidence that officials in two pivotal counties are trying to steal the election.
“When will Bill Nelson concede in Florida?” Trump said in a morning tweet. “The characters running Broward and Palm Beach voting will not be able to ‘find’ enough votes, too much spotlight on them now!”
There have been bumps as Florida undergoes a recount for both the governor and Senate races. Palm Beach County said it won’t finish its recount by the Thursday deadline. And in oft-criticized Broward County, additional sheriff’s deputies were sent to guard ballots and voting machines, a compromise aimed at alleviating concerns. Those counties are both Democratic strongholds.
Still, the state elections department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which are run by Republican appointees, have said they have seen no evidence of voter fraud. A Broward County judge challenged anyone who has evidence of fraud to file a report.
Presidents have historically sought to rise above the heated partisan drama surrounding election irregularities. Former President Barack Obama wasn’t so publicly involved when a recount and legal process in the 2008 election delayed a Democrat taking a Minnesota Senate seat until July 2009. Former President Bill Clinton struck a lower tone during the 2000 presidential recount, which also centered on Florida.
But this year, the Florida recount was personal for Trump. He aggressively campaigned in the state in the waning days of the election and put his finger on the scales of the Republican gubernatorial primary this summer by endorsing former Rep. Ron DeSantis. After Election Day, Trump’s aides pointed to the GOP’s seeming success in the state as a validation that the president’s path to re-election remained clear – a narrative that has grown hazier as the outcomes have become less certain.
White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said Tuesday the president “obviously has his opinion” on the recount.
“It’s been incredibly frustrating to watch,” she said.
Still, there’s not much choice but for Florida to go through the process. State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. In the Senate race, Republican Rick Scott’s lead over Nelson was 0.14 percentage points. In the governor’s contest, unofficial results showed Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis ahead of Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points.
Once the recount is complete, if the differences in any of the races are 0.25 percentage points or less, a hand recount will be ordered, meaning it could take even longer to complete the review of the Senate race if the difference remains narrow.
Broward Chief Circuit Judge Jack Tuter held an emergency hearing Monday on a request by Scott’s lawyers that deputies be put in charge of ballots and voting machines that aren’t being used until the recount is over.
An attorney for Broward Election Supervisor Brenda Snipes described layers of security including keycard and password access to rooms where ballots are kept, secured by deputies and monitored by security cameras and representatives of both campaigns and parties.
Scott’s lawyers had alleged in court documents that Snipes was engaging in “suspect and unlawful vote counting practices” that violate state law and that she might “destroy evidence of any errors, accidents or unlawful conduct.”
The judge said he could see no evidence of any violations, and said “I am urging because of the highly public nature of this case to ramp down the rhetoric.”
“If someone in this lawsuit or someone in this county has evidence of voter fraud or irregularities at the supervisor’s office, they should report it to their local law enforcement officer,” Tuter said. “If the lawyers are aware of it, they should swear out an affidavit, but everything the lawyers are saying out there in front of the elections office is being beamed all over the country. We need to be careful of what we say. Words mean things these days.”
Snipes has drawn criticism from Trump and other high-profile Republicans as her county’s election returns showed a narrowing lead for Scott during the ballot-counting in the days after Election Day, and even former Gov. Jeb Bush – who appointed her in 2003 – said she should be removed. Asked about those criticisms Tuesday, she hinted that she may not run for re-election in 2020.
“It is time to move on,” she said, later adding, “I’ll check with my family and they’ll tell me what I’m doing.”
Meanwhile, Elections Supervisor Mark Andersen in heavily Republican Bay County told the Miami Herald on Monday that he allowed about 150 people to cast ballots by email, which is illegal under state law. The county was devastated by a Category 4 hurricane in October and Scott ordered some special provisions for early voting there.
Manatee County, south of Tampa Bay, had to restart its recount Monday because a needed button on the machine wasn’t pushed. The error was caught after about a quarter of the county’s nearly 165,000 votes had been recounted, said Michael Bennett, the county’s Republican elections supervisor. It shouldn’t affect the county’s ability to meet Thursday’s deadline.
In Palm Beach, Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said the county’s 11-year-old tallying machines aren’t fast enough to complete the recount by Thursday. The county is doing the Senate race first and will then do the governor’s race. If the deadline is not met in a race, the results it reported last Saturday will stand.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; and Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics .