US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP (AFP)
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP (AFP)

Trump claims ‘honest vote count’ no longer possible in Florida

US President Donald Trump has claimed without providing evidence that ballots ?are missing or forged?

Miami/Washington: US President Donald Trump continued to weigh in on Florida’s mandatory recount in races for governor and U.S. Senate Monday, claiming without providing evidence that ballots “are missing or forged."

Trump said on Twitter that the elections should be called in favour of the Republican candidates -- who were leading on Election Night -- because “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected."

Florida’s Senate and governor’s races have gone to a recount that will decide two key offices in the largest U.S. swing state because the Republicans’ advantage in both races has fallen below the 0.5 percent threshold required to trigger mandatory machine recounts, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a statement on Saturday.

The move quickly drew an unfounded rebuke from Trump, who alleged opponents were trying to “steal" the elections. Rick Scott, the state’s governor now vying to be a U.S. senator, echoed that allegation on Fox News Monday and said that there has been “no transparency" in a recount that has featured 93,000 ballots materialize after Election Day that weren’t counted previously.

In the Senate race, the unofficial count had Republican Scott leading incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson by about 12,600 votes among roughly 8.2 million votes cast in the Nov. 6 election. The race for governor between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum was separated by about 33,700 votes, with the Republican also leading there.

Mad dash

Election workers on Saturday evening started a mad dash to recount by machine the millions of votes, in a task that some thought would be impossible to finish by the mandated deadline of 3 p.m. on Nov. 15.

Scott echoed Trump on the “Fox & Friends" morning program. “We need to go forward and start thinking about our agendas. Bill Nelson is clearly a sore loser. He can’t sand the fact that he’s not going to be elected for the first time in decades and he’s just here to steal this election," Scott said.

Nelson’s campaign sent a video statement on Friday in which the senator said, “Scott is trying to stop all the votes from being counted and he’s impeding the democratic process." The lawyer that Scott referenced was not authorized to object, and non-citizens don’t vote, Nelson’s attorney Marc Elias said.

The Florida governor on Sunday sued to have voting machines, tallying devices and ballots seized in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

State elections officials said they had observers in Broward County and they hadn’t found evidence of criminal wrongdoing. What’s more, Detzner, whose office ultimately had to order the recount, is a Scott appointee.

Scott’s “own Republican officials in Florida said there is no fraud," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on CNN Sunday.

The recounts will decide the fate of a crucial Senate seat and a governorship in a state that will also prove important in the 2020 presidential contest.

Scott declared victory on election night, but slow vote-counting in Democrat-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties narrowed the race to within the margin that dictates a recount. DeSantis also declared victory -- and his opponent conceded -- when the outcome appeared set on election night.

Trump, Scott and other Republicans have attempted to sow doubt about the process and raise suspicions about electoral officials, especially Broward County’s election supervisor Brenda Snipes, who oversaw the vote in the state’s second-most populous county, which includes Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs.

Necessary transparency

Republicans said Snipes failed to provide necessary transparency as votes dribbled in and Democrats closed the margin.

Pressed on ABC’s “This Week" on Sunday to offer one piece of evidence that efforts are underway to “steal" the Florida election, as Trump tweeted Saturday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway cited “boxes of votes just appearing out of nowhere" and past criticism of Snipes.

Photos of ballot boxes that had allegedly been left behind were distributed widely on social media, including by leading Republicans. But Eugene Pettis, a lawyer representing Snipes, said the boxes found on the premises of voting locations didn’t actually contain votes -- just supplies.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who oversaw Republican campaign efforts for the Senate this cycle, said on CNN’s “State of the Union" that there’s “clear evidence that the Constitution was violated." He cited court decisions focused on transparency and meeting deadlines, though he did not provide any evidence of fraud.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that we’re protecting every single vote in Florida," Gardner said. He added on NBC’s “Meet the Press" that he is “going to leave it to the courts to decide how we best protect the integrity of this election."

‘No basis’

Pettis, the attorney for Snipes, said “there is no basis" for fraud allegations: “It’s very important that we listen to facts and not fiction," he said.

Schumer said that “President Trump and Rick Scott are so afraid of every vote being counted because they think Scott will lose if that happens, that they’re interfering."

Floridians also struggled to understand why there were many fewer votes cast for senator than for governor in Broward, given that they were on the same ballot and no discrepancy of that magnitude occurred anywhere else. There have been suggestions that the design of ballot might have caused some voters to miss the Senate race.

If a machine recount puts the results within a quarter of a percentage point, county canvassing boards would do a manual recount. Ballots from overseas civilians and members of the military will be counted if they’re postmarked by Nov. 6 and arrive by Nov. 16. The official results of a manual recount would be due by Nov. 18.

Minuscule margins

Florida elections have a history of minuscule margins and allegations of improprieties at polling stations and in vote-counting. The 2000 presidential election was decided when the U.S. Supreme Court halted a Florida recount and made Republican George W. Bush the winner over Democrat Al Gore. That recount was marked by America’s fixation on Florida’s punch-card ballots, famed for their hanging chads, which are no longer in use.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, in an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,’ said that Florida’s history “doesn’t give you a great deal of confidence" in the current situation. “It could almost always be a bit of both of incompetence and -- and the potential for malfeasance," Cruz said.

But despite the widespread comparisons, much has changed in Florida since then. In addition to more sophisticated voting technology, the Florida Election Reform Act of 2001 created a mechanism to automatically trigger a recount within a certain threshold. As such, trailing candidates don’t actually have to request a recount, although they could refuse one.

The race for Florida’s agriculture commissioner will go to a recount as well, with Democrat Nikki Fried now edging Republican Matt Caldwell by about 5,300 votes.

‘Count every vote’

Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor, blasted Trump and Scott’s remarks about voting fraud, referring to them as part of a “chorus calling for the ending of this process."

“In America, we count every vote regardless of what the outcome may be," Gillum said Saturday in an event broadcast on his Facebook page.

DeSantis said Saturday in a YouTube video that the latest tallies only confirm his victory, and that he’s focused on preparing his new government. Scott tweeted that “we won’t let liberal activists from all over the country come to Florida and steal this election."