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Florida and Georgia vote counts: Key rulings issued, controversies flare

Arizona elects Sinema to Senate
Martha McSally concedes Arizona's Senate race to Kyrsten Sinema 02:07

Election Day was last week, but several of the biggest races have yet to be called. Florida's gubernatorial and Senate races and the Georgia gubernatorial race are still up in the air, with slim margins between Democratic and Republican candidates.

Here's a look at where things stand in the marquee races that have yet to be decided -- and one that just was: 

Florida: Senate and governor races

Sen. Bill Nelson has called on Republican Gov. Rick Scott to recuse himself from "any role" in Florida's recount process as supervisors of elections across the state begin the 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, tweeting 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.

Additional sheriff's deputies were sent to guard ballots and voting machines in Broward County Monday. And Tuter said no Republican who's publicly alleged fraud in Broward's process has filed a criminal complaint.

Florida election law dictates a machine recount must be undertaken if the margin between two candidates is within half a percentage point.

Scott is leading incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson by less than 15,000 votes, or roughly .2 percent. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is leading Democrat Andrew Gillum by less than 40,000 votes, around .4 percent.

Scott will be in Washington, D.C., this week for new Senate member orientation, despite the recount. 

Scott has filed multiple lawsuits over the recount, including ones directed at the elections officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties. 

Scott won two lawsuits last week to crack open records kept by elections officials open. He filed further lawsuits on Sunday in an attempt to keep elections officials from counting ballots submitted past Election Day. 

 If the machine recount finds one or both of the races to be within one quarter of a percentage point, a manual recount will be held.  

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum expressed outrage Monday evening that some voters in hurricane-ravaged Bay County had been allowed to vote by email against state rules.

Gillum spoke at an African-American church in Boynton Beach.

Elections Supervisor Mark Andersen in heavily Republican Bay County told the Miami Herald earlier on Monday that he allowed about 150 people to cast ballots by email, which is illegal under state law.

"These are the stories that we know," Gillum said. "Imagine the ones that we don't."

Mr. Trump tweeted earlier Monday that the election should be called for Gillum's Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis, and Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate. Mr. Trump said an honest vote count is no longer possible.

Gillum disagreed with the tweet, saying, "Not one supervisor, not one governor, not one president - if that's what we want to call him -- should be able to take away our sense of hope."

Gillum questioned the Republicans' rush to stop counting votes when the new governor won't be sworn in until January.

Georgia governor race

A federal judge in Atlanta has ordered Georgia to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm elections that include the unsettled race for governor and to take steps to protect provisional ballots.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ruled late Monday that Georgia must not certify the election results before Friday at 5 p.m., which falls before the Nov. 20 deadline set by state law.

But state elections director Chris Harvey testified at a hearing last week that the state had planned to certify the election results on Wednesday, a day after the deadline for counties to certify their results. He said that would allow preparations to begin for a runoff, which is already projected in the secretary of state race.

Totenberg also ordered the secretary of state's office to establish a hotline or website where voters can check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why. And, for counties with 100 or more provisional ballots, she ordered the secretary of state's office to review, or have county election officials review, the eligibility of voters who had to cast a provisional ballot because of registration issues.

Current unofficial returns show Republican Brian Kemp leading by a margin that would make him the victor in one of the nation's premier midterm election contests. But Democrat Stacey Abrams maintains enough outstanding votes remain to pull Kemp below the majority threshold and force a Dec. 4 runoff.

Totenberg's order stemmed from a lawsuit filed Nov. 5 by Common Cause Georgia. It accuses Kemp, who was the state's top elections official until he resigned as secretary of state last week, of acting recklessly after a vulnerability in Georgia's voter registration database was exposed shortly before the election.

Kemp's actions increased the risk that eligible voters could be illegally removed from the voter registration database or have registration information illegally altered, the lawsuit says.

Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said in an emailed statement that the ruling helps increase voter confidence in elections. A spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office did not respond to an email sent late Monday seeking comment.

Totenberg's order doesn't change the Tuesday deadline for counties to certify their results. But Abrams' campaign filed a lawsuit Sunday asking a federal court to push that deadline to Wednesday, while also requiring that elections authorities count certain provisional and absentee ballots that have been or would be rejected for "arbitrary reasons."

A judge ruled absentee ballots rejected because of issues with the date of birth listed should be counted on Tuesday.

"The rulings from last night and this morning were wins for Georgians' fundamental right - the right to cast a ballot," Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a statement on the rulings. "Given the confusion sowed by the Secretary of State's office last week and the number of voters who experienced irregularities regarding their registration status, these victories were necessary steps in the fight to count every eligible vote in Georgia.

Abrams said in a statement explaining her refusal to end her bid to become the first black woman elected governor in American history that she was "fighting to make sure our democracy works for and represents everyone who has ever put their faith in it." 

Kemp's campaign retorted that Abrams' latest effort is "a disgrace to democracy" and ignores mathematical realities. "Clearly, Stacey Abrams isn't ready for her 15 minutes of fame to end," said Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney.

Unofficial returns show Kemp with a lead just shy of 60,000 votes out of more than 3.9 million cast; Abrams would need a net gain of about 21,000 votes to force a Dec. 4 runoff.

Accusations of voter suppression cast a shadow over the vote tabulation. Kemp was Georgia secretary of state until his resignation Thursday. During his tenure, his office removed 1.5 million voters from the rolls. His office also suspended the registration of 53,000 voters shortly before the election, 70 percent of whom were black, although a judge ruled these voters could cast a ballot on election day. Democrats argue Kemp's seeming victory is due to tactics of voter suppression.

Arizona Senate race

In a year of liberal challenges to Mr. Trump, an avowed centrist scored the Democratic Party's biggest coup -- flipping a red state's U.S. Senate seat. 

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema won the Arizona Senate seat being vacated by Republican Jeff Flake. The race against Republican Rep. Martha McSally was tight enough that a winner wasn't decided until Monday, after a slow count of mail-in ballots gave her an insurmountable lead. 

Sinema's win achieves a longtime Democratic goal of making Arizona, with its growing Latino population, a competitive state. And she did it by pointedly not running against the president, or even critiquing his hardline immigration stance. 

"She didn't put the progressive bit in her mouth and run with it," said Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist in Phoenix. "She spit it out and did something else." 

Sinema targeted moderate Republican and independent women by painting herself as a nonpartisan problem-solver who voted to support Trump's agenda 60 percent of the time. Her nearly single-issue campaign talked about the importance of health care and protections for people with pre-existing conditions. 

She knew McSally was vulnerable there because she backed the Republicans' failed attempt to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. 

Sinema tailored her campaign for conservative-leaning Arizona rather than the national environment, but it may be a guide for Democrats who hope to expand the electoral map in 2020. While some liberals won important races in California, Colorado and Kansas, the left's highest-profile champions disappointed on Election Day.

Grace Segers contributed to this report

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