FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who saw his lead shrink in a US Senate race last week, filed court motions on Sunday seeking “emergency” injunctions to impound ballots and voting equipment in two largely Democratic counties, essentially putting voting records under the watch of law enforcement officials when not being used during a recount.
Meanwhile, a third lawsuit from Scott sought to stop local officials from submitting any newly counted ballots to the state.
Republicans and President Donald Trump have claimed Democrats are trying to “steal” the Florida election as vote tallies have caused their candidates' narrow leads to shrink.
Scott's complaints in Broward and Palm Beach counties ask judges for immediate hearings to consider whether sheriff deputies and state law enforcement agents should “impound and secure all voting machines, tallying devices, and ballots when not in use until such time as any recounts, election contests, or litigation related to the 2018 general election for the office of United States Senator are complete.”
This comes after Scott filed two other cases Thursday alleging that local officials were hiding records — judges agreed and ordered county elections supervisors to hand over records to Scott’s campaign and a local canvassing board.
Scott’s latest brief in the case against Brenda Snipes, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, notes that she had refused to hand over election records until ordered to do so on Friday.
“This lack of transparency, in violation of Florida law, raises substantial concern about the security and validity of the electoral process,” Scott’s complaint says in the state’s 17th circuit court. “Worse yet, as recently as today, the Supervisor of Elections continues to store election equipment and ballots in an unsecured facility outside the view of the public."
But Eugene Pettis, a lawyer for Broward County's Snipes, told BuzzFeed News there is "no basis" for an impound, because ballots and voting equipment are already under "lock and key," overseen by security staff. "They are already being guarded."
A hearing in Broward County was scheduled for 10:30am on Monday.
A parallel, nearly identical motion takes aim at Palm Beach County, another Democratic stronghold north of Miami, where Scott alleges that the elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, also must surrender her equipment when not in use to the sheriff and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Sen. Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democrat, rebuffed the lawsuits on Sunday, saying Scott was trying “to stop every legal vote from being counted.”
“He's doing this for the same reason he's been making false and panicked claims about voter fraud — he's worried that when all the votes are counted he'll lose this election,” said a statement from Nelson’s campaign. “We will not allow him to undermine the democratic process and will use every legal tool available to protect the rights of Florida voters.”
The Scott campaign filed a third lawsuit in Broward County on Sunday to block Snipes from submitting results of ballots counted for the first time after noon on Saturday. That was the deadline for counties to send unofficial returns to the Florida Division of Elections.
Republicans became concerned on Saturday afternoon when the county's canvassing board continued to review "voter intent" on roughly two dozen ballots. The Scott campaign feared the Democratic-majority county could keep adding to those tallies, factoring them into the recount, thereby handing more votes to Nelson.
State law, however, doesn't appear to address the dispute directly. Scott's lawsuit cites a statute that says unofficial ballot returns "shall include the canvass of all ballots as required by" another part of the law about absent voters and provisional ballots. The Scott campaign contends this means that only ballots mailed by overseas voters can be tabulated for the first time after noon on Saturday.
Pettis, the lawyer for Broward County's Snipes, said the deadline to submit final vote sums to the state is Nov. 18. The deadline for unofficial results did not stop officials from considering other ballots seemed valid when they conduct a recount.
On Saturday, the Florida Division of Elections ordered that ballots be recounted by machines in three close statewide races, including Scott’s challenge to incumbent Sen. Nelson, and Republican Ron DeSantis's 0.41% race against Democrat Andrew Gillum. Florida law requires a machine recount when a race’s margin reaches 0.5%.