FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson called on Republican Gov. Rick Scott to recuse himself from "any role" in Florida's recount process as the supervisors of elections across the state began a mandatory machine recount of more than 8.2 million ballots cast in this year's U.S. Senate race.
During an emergency hearing Monday, Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter said he's seen no evidence of wrongdoing in the vote-counting in Broward County and urged all sides to "ramp down the rhetoric." Tuter said there is a need to reassure citizens that the integrity of the Florida recount is being protected.
But President Trump again alleged without evidence that the state was dealing with voter fraud, writing in a Tweet Monday morning that "large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged."
The state's law enforcement arm and elections monitors have found no evidence of wrongdoing, but lawyers for the Republican party and the GOP candidates joined with Mr. Trump in alleging that irregularities, unethical behavior and fraud have taken place since the polls closed last week.
The developments make this a tumultuous political moment in Florida. This recount process is unprecedented even in a state notorious for settling elections by razor-thin margins. State officials said they weren't aware of any other time a race for governor or U.S. Senate required a recount, let alone both in the same election.
In a video statement, Nelson said Scott is "using his power as governor to try to undermine the voting process," as he called on him to remove himself from the recount. "He's worried when all the votes are counted, he'll lose the election," he said. The Scott campaign said he will be coming to Washington this week to participate in some orientation activities for new members of Congress, including the photo and voting in leadership elections.
Unofficial results showed Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis ahead of Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points in the governor's contest.
In the Senate race, Scott's lead over Nelson was 0.14 percentage points.
In Broward County, the recount was delayed for hours Sunday because of a problem with one of the tabulation machines. That prompted the Republican Party to accuse Broward's supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, of "incompetence and gross mismanagement."
Broward officials faced further headaches after acknowledging the county mistakenly counted 22 absentee ballots that had been rejected. The problem seemed impossible to fix because dismissed ballots were mixed in with 205 legal ballots and Snipes said it would be unfair to throw out all the votes.
Scott filed suit against Snipes. He's seeking a court order for law enforcement agents to impound all voting machines, tallying devices and ballots "when not in use until such time as any recounts." The suit accused Snipes of repeatedly failing to account for the number of ballots left to be counted and failing to report results regularly as required by law.
The court didn't immediately respond, though the outcry from Democrats was immediate.
Juan Penalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, accused Scott of "using his position to consolidate power by cutting at the very core of our democracy."
Meanwhile, in Palm Beach County, the supervisor of elections said she didn't think her department could meet Thursday's deadline to complete that recount, throwing into question what would happen to votes there.
The recount in other major population centers, including Miami-Dade and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the Tampa Bay area, has been continuing without incident. Smaller counties were expected to begin reviews between Monday and Wednesday.
State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. Once completed, if the differences in any of the races are 0.25 percentage points or below, a hand recount will be ordered.
Republicans urged their Democratic opponents to give up and let the state to move on.
Gillum and Nelson insist that each vote should be counted and the process should take its course.
Scott said Sunday that Nelson wants fraudulent ballots and those cast by noncitizens to count, pointing to a Nelson lawyer's objection of Palm Beach County's rejection of one provisional ballot because it was cast by a noncitizen.
"He is trying to commit fraud to win this election," Scott told Fox News. "Bill Nelson's a sore loser. He's been in politics way too long."
Nelson's campaign issued a statement later saying their lawyer wasn't authorized to object to the ballot's rejection, as "Non-citizens cannot vote in US elections."
Gillum appeared Sunday evening at a predominantly African-American church in Fort Lauderdale, declaring that voter disenfranchisement isn't just about being blocked from the polling booth. He said it also includes absentee ballots not being counted and ballots with mismatched signatures that "a volunteer may have the option of ... deciding that vote is null and void."
Both the state elections division, which Scott runs, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have said they have found no evidence of voter fraud.
That didn't stop protests outside Snipes' office, where a mostly Republican crowd gathered, holding signs, listening to country music and occasionally chanting "lock her up," referring to Snipes. A massive Trump 2020 flag flew over the parking lot and a Bikers For Trump group wore matching shirts. One protester wore a Hillary Clinton mask.
Registered independent Russell Liddick, a 38-year-old Pompano Beach retail worker, carried a sign reading, "I'm not here for Trump! I'm here for fair elections! Fire Snipes!" He said the office's problems "don't make me feel very much like my vote counted."
Florida also is conducting a recount in a third statewide race. Democrat Nikki Fried had a 0.07 percentage point lead over Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell for agriculture commissioner, one of Florida's three Cabinet seats.
For some, the recounts bring back memories of the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W. Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, thus giving Bush the presidency.
Much has changed since then.
In 2000, each county had its own voting system. Many used punch cards — voters poked out chads, leaving tiny holes in their ballots representing their candidates. Some voters, however, didn't fully punch out the presidential chad or gave it just a little push. Those hanging and dimpled chads had to be examined by the canvassing boards, a lengthy, tiresome and often subjective process that became fodder for late-night comedians.
Now the state requires all Florida counties to use ballots where voters use a pen to mark their candidate's name, much like a student taking a multiple-choice test, and the process for recounts is clearly spelled out.