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Without any evidence, President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott have floated accusations of fraud in two left-leaning counties in the aftermath of the Florida election.
"Every Floridian should be concerned there may be rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward Counties," Scott said at a press conference Nov. 8. "And the Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes has a history of acting in bad faith."
Both Scott and Trump have cast suspicion about the rising number of votes in the days following election night, causing Scott’s total to dwindle in his bid for U.S. Senate. Trump called the rising number of "found" votes the "Broward Effect" and tweeted that he would send lawyers to "expose the fraud!"
"The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!" he tweeted.
Scott’s race is one of three statewide races in which a machine recount is underway. As of Nov. 10 when the recount was ordered, Scott was about 13,000 votes ahead of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. In the governor’s race, Republican Ron DeSantis led by about 34,000 votes, and in the state agriculture commissioner race, Democrat Nikki Fried led by about 5,000 votes.
While there have clearly been problems in Broward, that’s not the same as actual fraud. It’s normal for counting the ballots to continue for days; under state law they had until noon Saturday following the election.
Snipes’ counterpart in Palm Beach, Susan Bucher, said in response to Scott’s comments, "I think it's unfortunate that some of our highest elected leaders in the country are trying to impede our democracy because they don’t like the demographics of our voters. We are here to count ballots. We have to adhere to the laws. I would suspect that they really don't understand the process."
As Scott decried "these shenanigans" in South Florida, two agencies that he oversees said they had nothing to investigate.
On Nov. 8, Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate while he also announced he was suing Broward and Palm Beach election supervisors.
But FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said that no allegation of voter fraud has been sent to the Florida Department of State, which oversees elections.
"We do not have an active investigation," Plessinger said.
Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi then blasted FDLE for not investigating, and the next day the two offices released a joint statement saying they are "actively engaged in monitoring processes for potential criminal activity."
Sarah Revell, a state elections spokeswoman, told PolitiFact, "Our staff has seen no evidence of criminal activity at this time."
On Nov. 12, a Broward judge denied Scott’s request to impound voting machines when they are not being used in the recount, though he did call for adding more sheriff’s deputies.
Scott's lawyers stated in court documents that Snipes was engaging in "suspect and unlawful vote counting practices" and called for "halting ongoing election fraud."
Broward Judge Jack Tuter called on the lawyers to produce proof of fraud rather than just allege it.
"If someone in this lawsuit or someone in this county has evidence of voter fraud or irregularities at the supervisor's office, they should report it to their local law enforcement officer," Tuter said. "If the lawyers are aware of it, they should swear out an affidavit, but everything the lawyers are saying out there in front of the elections office is being beamed all over the country. We need to be careful of what we say. Words mean things these days."
While there hasn’t been evidence of fraud in counting the votes, there has been a long list of errors and problems following election night in Broward. For example, Scott’s campaign noted that days after the election Broward mixed in about 20 rejected provisional ballots with about 200 legitimate ones.
The Nov. 11 recount was supposed to begin at 7 a.m., but blaming equipment glitches, the first step of separating pages started a few hours late in Broward.
Coupled with Snipes’ history of errors, sluggish vote counting and lawsuits, the office has developed a reputation as a sloppy operation. Earlier this year, a judge found Snipes prematurely destroyed ballots months after a congressional election, leading the state to assign election monitors to Broward.
In a separate case before the election, a judge ordered Snipes not to open mail-in ballots until the canvassing board convened.
"It is possible here for two things to be true at the same time: There’s no evidence of fraud in the counting of votes in Florida, and the incompetence of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is deeply troubling," Rick Hasen, professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in Slate, noting that no state official or judge has found evidence of voter fraud.
Charles Stewart, an MIT political science professor, said fraud generally requires an action with the intention of illegally manipulating the result of an election.
While there may have been questionable judgements and mistakes, Stewart said, "none of this seems to involve a large number of votes, and none of it appears aimed at shifting the results of the election."
President Donald Trump, Tweet, Nov. 12, 2018
Rick Scott for Florida vs Dr Brenda C Snipes, Broward court complaint, Nov. 11, 2018
NewsMax, "Gov. Scott: Sen. Bill Nelson a 'Pure Sore Loser'," Nov. 12, 2018
Gov Rick Scott, Statement on election results, Nov. 8, 2018
Florida Division of Elections, Timeline for reporting and certification of 2018 election results, 2018
Politico, "'Incompetence': Broward election chief likely to be forced from office by Scott, DeSantis," Nov. 12, 2018
Tampa Bay Times, "Broward judge denies Rick Scott’s bid to impound voting machines, offers compromise," Nov. 12, 2019
Slate, "There Are No Actual Set Rules for Counting Disputed Ballots," Nov. 5, 2018
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Broward Circuit Court Judge Raag Singhal, FInal order granting plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, Aug. 10, 2018
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Palm Beach Post, "Florida elections: GOP, Dems fight in Palm Beach County court," Nov. 9, 2018
Miami Herald reporter Martin Vassolo, Tweet, Nov. 12, 2018
Twitter, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Nov. 11, 2018
WPTV, "Machine recount for 3 Florida races underway," Nov. 9, 2018
WPBF25, Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, Nov. 9, 2018
Tampa Bay Times, No evidence of criminal activity in Broward County, state elections observers say, Nov. 10, 2018
Tampa Bay Times, Florida recount timeline: How did we get here?, Nov. 13, 2018
Youtube, Susan Bucher on allegations made by Gov. Scott, Nov. 9, 2018
Tampa Bay Times, No, President Trump, they haven’t only ‘found’ votes for Democrats in Florida, Nov. 9, 2018
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Interview, Chris Hartline, Gov. Rick Scott campaign spokesman, Nov. 12, 2018
Interview, Marc Elias, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson campaign recount lawyer, Nov. 12, 2018
Interview, Dan McLaughlin, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson campaign spokesman, Nov. 12, 2018
Interview, Sarah Revell, Florida Division of Elections spokeswoman, Nov. 12, 2018
Interview, Gretl Plessinger, Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman, Nov. 13, 2018
Interview, Edward B. Foley, directs Election Law at Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, Nov. 12, 2018
Interview, Rick Hasen, Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, Nov. 12, 2018
Interview, Charles Stewart, an MIT political science professor, Nov. 12, 2018