After seeming victories in the Florida governor’s race, the U.S. Senate race, and the Florida agriculture commissioner race last Tuesday, Republicans in the Sunshine State spent the last two days dumbfounded while Democrat election supervisors in deep-blue Broward and Palm Beach Counties added tens of thousands of previously uncounted votes to the statewide tally.
The newly counted ballots, which are breaking almost 3-to-1 in favor of Democrats, have triggered a likely hand recount, a machine recount, a lawsuit, a law enforcement investigation, and accusations from Republicans that Democrats are literally trying to steal the election.
At midnight on election day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott led incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race by just under 60,000 votes, just outside the margin for a mandatory machine recount. Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis led Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democrat, by about 80,000 votes. Gillum conceded his race that night, but Nelson refused.
In a secluded room away from the well-wishers gathered at his victory party in Naples, Florida, Scott’s team did some basic math and determined the remaining uncounted precincts couldn’t possibly contain enough Democrat votes for Nelson to overcome the 60,000-vote deficit. At midnight, Scott claimed victory in a subdued speech, then retired to bed.
When Republicans woke the next morning, they were stunned to learn Scott’s lead had shrunk by 22,000 votes, a seemingly impossible mathematical feat. Most of the newly counted ballots came from Broward County, but some were added from Palm Beach County (yes, that one). With Scott’s lead now down to just 38,000 votes, murmurs of a potential recount began to build. By mid-afternoon, more cartons of Democrat-leaning ballots had been added to the statewide total, trimming Scott’s margin over Nelson to around 30,000 votes.
Even at that point, Republicans didn’t seem overly concerned. After all, 30,000 votes is a lot to overcome, especially when all that remained to be counted were a few handfuls of provisional ballots, overseas military ballots likely favoring Republicans, and some straggling vote-by-mail and early ballots. And while the governor’s race had also tightened, it remained outside the mandatory recount margin.
That all changed on Thursday morning, when Republicans woke for the second day in a row to learn that overnight, still more Democrat votes had been dumped into the system, cutting Scott’s lead by 8,000 votes, putting it well within the mandatory hand-recount range.
Reporters, by now curious about why Broward County was still counting ballots when hurricane-ravaged Bay County had their work wrapped up on election night, asked Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes if she knew how many uncounted ballots remained.
“Not sure. I’m really not sure. But we are working on those,” she told CBS 4 News in Miami.
A few hours later, Snipes posted another 11,300 ballots to the state’s Division of Elections. Those new votes favored Democrats by more than 2-to-1, helping Bill Nelson close the gap even further, but also triggering mandatory recounts in the governor’s race, and flipping the race for agriculture commissioner from Republican to Democrat.
By 8 p.m. on Thursday, Scott had seen enough. With his lead now down to 15,092 votes, he filed a pair of lawsuits against the Broward and Palm Beach County election supervisors. The suits demand access to public records in an effort to find out how many ballots have been cast, how many have been counted, and how many ballots remain to be counted.
“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott said during an emergency press conference on the front steps of the governor’s mansion late Thursday.
Amid reports that a teacher in Broward County found an abandoned ballot box in a storage area, Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Broward County’s handling of ballots and verify that the chain of custody has been properly maintained.
President Donald Trump also got in on the action, firing off a tweet in support of Scott:
Law Enforcement is looking into another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach. Florida voted for Rick Scott!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
During the late-night press conference, Scott announced he is also seeking better access for poll watchers he says are being forced to observe from behind a glass wall that blocks audio and prevents them from being close enough to see what ballot handlers are doing.
Confidence in the counting process isn’t helped by the fact that Snipes has been caught with her hand in the cookie jar before. Just days before the 2016 general election, and again in 2018, Snipes was accused of violating Florida law when opening vote-by-mail ballot envelopes outside the watchful eyes of the legally required canvassing board. And earlier this year, a judge found she broke state and federal laws by destroying ballots cast in a primary election featuring Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
In the hour it took to draft this article between 10 and 11 p.m., two full days after the election, Rick Scott’s margin narrowed by five votes, while DeSantis’s margin narrowed by eight votes.
Here are the latest tallies in each contested race as of 11 p.m., November 8:
Rick Scott (R): 4,094,767 (50.09%)
Bill Nelson (D)*: 4,079,693 (49.91%)
Difference: 15,074 (0.18%)
Ron DeSantis (R): 4,072,796 (49.61%)
Andrew Gillum (D): 4,036,585 (49.17%)
Difference: 36,211 (0.44%)