Sorting out fact from fiction in the Florida recounts
Florida’s midterm recount has both parties furiously filing litigation, making the rounds on national TV, firing off attacks on Twitter and pleading for donations to fund their fights for U.S. Senate and the governor’s mansion.
Practically everyone seems mad at Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who has been accused of corruption or incompetence as her county tabulated ballots slower than nearly every other county in the state.
The fast-moving situation creates an atmosphere rife for misinformation. PolitiFact is here to help voters sort out the facts from fiction.
Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump have alleged fraud in the ballot counting in Broward County, a liberal bastion. The issue is important to Scott, whose political future hangs on a narrow lead of thousands of votes over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.
Neither Republican provided any evidence of fraud. While Broward has a history of lawsuits and voting problems, that isn’t the same as fraud.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it had received no allegation of fraud and the state Division of Elections said with respect to Broward "our staff has seen no evidence of criminal activity at this time." The state's election office had been monitoring Broward’s elections due to an unrelated lawsuit about prematurely destroyed ballots that Snipes lost after the 2016 election.
State election officials have alerted federal prosecutors to possible election law violations. So far, the state appears to be raising questions about the Florida Democratic Party, not county elections officials.
Politico reported that on Nov. 9, the state Division of Elections sent a letter to federal prosecutors related to a form intended to serve as an affidavit to cure defects in vote-by-mail. While Florida law says that voters must return the forms on the day before the election, supervisors in at least four counties including Broward received altered forms wrongly directing the voter to return the form by Nov. 8. A chain of emails between supervisors and the state indicated that the information about the wrong date appeared to come from the Florida Democratic Party. A party spokeswoman couldn’t be reached by PolitiFact.
Scott said on Fox News that a Nelson lawyer "said that a non-citizen should have the right to vote."
A Trump campaign fundraising email made an even bolder claim, saying that Democrats in Florida "fought to include votes from people who ARE NOT EVEN UNITED STATES CITIZENS."
This statement requires context; mainly, it pertains to comment about a single voter.
The Scott campaign sent a few lines of a transcript of the board meeting in which Susan Bucher, the Palm Beach elections supervisor, said a ballot was not counted because the person was "not a U.S. citizen." Lawyer Jack Scarola said "objection Nelson" followed by a similar objection by a lawyer for Gillum.
Scarola, a volunteer lawyer for Nelson, told us his objection was a joke.
"Everybody present recognized the fact there was no legal basis for raising an objection to a non-citizen casting a ballot," Scarola said in an interview. "We had been there for hours, raising many objections based upon a variety of other issues and this objection was raised and understood by the canvassing board and everyone present to have been raised in humor."
Scarola said in another instance, the board rejected an unsigned ballot by a voter whose last name was DeSantis, the same name as GOP candidate for governor Ron DeSantis. Scarola said he "raised a non-objection" — another joke.
Nelson's lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, said in a statement to the media that the lawyer at the meeting was "not someone we had authorized to make such an objection. Non-citizens cannot vote in U.S. elections."
Votes cast by non-citizens are statistically rare.
It is not in dispute that there were about 25,000 fewer votes for Senate than governor in Broward County. But there is not a definitive answer as to why this occurred. Voters are allowed to skip any races they want on the ballot. But it is odd that Broward stands out here.
Nelson’s attorney suggested it could have been an issue with voting machines.
"The scanning equipment may not have caught it," Elias said.
But most of the theories relate to the ballot design in Broward, raising questions about whether some voters simply missed it. The Senate race question was placed in the same vertical column as the long list of voter instructions.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommends ballot instructions be "self-contained and separated from contest data."
The guidelines continue, "Vertical instruction treatments cannot share column space with contests," noting that test voters often overlooked races listed under vertical instructions.
Democratic consultant Matthew Isbell found that 3.7 percent of Senate ballot questions were left blank in Broward, "shattering any other county’s undervote."
"My theory is that the lack of a congressional race meant there was one less opportunity to spot that races existed on the bottom left," Isbell wrote.
The Tampa Bay Times found that Nelson’s vote total between 11 p.m. on election night and the following Friday rose by 93,475.
But it’s not a mystery. In the days following an election, vote totals normally go up. The Senate race’s post-Election Day ballot count garnered particular attention because the totals were close as Scott’s lead dwindled to about 13,000, prompting a recount.
The Broward County elections supervisor is a lifelong Democrat. Her biography on the Broward County supervisor of elections website also lists her as a Democrat. Numerous media reports and government documents confirm her Democratic party affiliation.
No. Claims that there were more ballots cast than the number of registered voters are not supported by any evidence. Voter turnout in Broward County was about 61 percent, not 110 percent as some social media users claimed.
There have been 714,859 votes counted in Broward County so far, not more than 1.2 million.