President Donald Trump and his Republican ally running for Senate are already screaming about election fraud, and a lawyer for Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson said Friday he knows why: They know they’re probably going to lose.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in a brief statement Thursday night, and Trump, in a series of remarks on the White House South Lawn on Friday, accused Democratic officials of trying to take away Scott’s victory in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
“Rick Scott, who won by ― you know, it was close, but he won by a comfortable margin ― every couple of hours it goes down a little bit,” Trump said before boarding Marine One to start his weekend trip to France.
Trump then inexplicably tied the Florida situation to the Russia investigation. “And then you see the people, and they were involved with that fraud of the fake dossier, the phony dossier.”
And then, aboard Air Force One as it flew out across the Atlantic, Trump tweeted: “As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes. Don’t worry, Florida - I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!”
Elias, a Democratic elections lawyer who has a good success rate with candidates caught up in statewide recounts, said he understands why Scott and his allies are so worried, with the election night margin of 30,000 votes now cut in half.
“He and I agree. The margin does continue to close as a result of lawful ballots,” Elias told reporters Friday morning in a conference call.
All the complaining Trump, Scott and other Republicans are doing about ballots still being counted in heavily Democratic South Florida counties is either based on ignorance of the process or a deliberate effort to mislead the public, Elias added.
“This is a feature, not a flaw,” Elias said of the ongoing counting of provisional and absentee ballots.
Scott, the sitting governor until early January, told reporters called to the state-owned governor’s mansion in Tallahassee on Tuesday night: “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida.”
He added that he wanted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the state police agency, to investigate the count in South Florida because “left-wing activists have been coming up with more and more ballots out of nowhere.”
Elias said Scott’s words are revealing. “The tone, the tenor and his behavior last night is not suggestive of a campaign that believes it is winning,” he said, then added: “This is not a Third World dictatorship. We don’t let people seize ballots when they think they are losing.”
He said that if Scott follows through on his “veiled threat” of blocking the ongoing count of “ballots that have been lawfully cast,” he would quickly go to court. “I can assure you that we will take all of the necessary steps in court to make sure that Sen. Nelson’s interests are protected.”
This is not a Third World dictatorship. We don’t let people seize ballots when they think they are losing. Marc Elias
Elias said he has already filed suit in federal court in North Florida to block a state law that requires a match between the signature on a ballot envelope to the one on file at the local elections office. He said officials performing the count do not have the necessary training to match signatures, and that similar laws in other states have been thrown out.
He added that he is confident Nelson has a good chance of winning if a full count is conducted because of his experience in handling recounts and how many votes seem to be missing from South Florida. Once the recounts are underway, though, there’s nothing anyone can do to affect the tally, he said.
“There’s nothing I can do about that. There’s nothing Rick Scott can do about it. There’s nothing any of you can do about it,” Elias said. “Ultimately, those ballots are what they are. The votes are what they are. And if more voters cast lawful ballots for Sen. Nelson, he’s going to be returning to the U.S. Senate.”
But Marco Rubio, Florida’s other senator and a Republican, told reporters on a Scott campaign conference call later that the reason Nelson’s legal team is in Florida isn’t to make sure the counting process is fair and thorough.
“Their job is not to make sure the votes are counted,” Rubio said. “Their job is to steal the election by making sure that their clients’ votes are counted, and to try and disqualify as many votes as possible from the other side,” Rubio said.
Shortly after Elias’ conference call was finished, former Democratic congressman Patrick Murphy tweeted that his ballot was rejected over his signature. “Just saw notice from @PBCounty that my absentee ballot wasn’t counted due to ‘invalid signature’ match,” he wrote, adding that Palm Beach County’s totals, therefore, deserve to be one higher for Nelson as well as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. “Must overhaul these ridiculous barriers to voting.”
Trump, meanwhile, continued his agitated tweeting about the race. Nearly halfway across the Atlantic, he wrote: “Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day, now they ‘found’ many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes. ‘The Broward Effect.’ How come they never find Republican votes?”
In the now-infamous presidential election of 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped a manual recount in Florida with Republican George W. Bush leading Democrat Al Gore by 537 votes. Florida responded with a law requiring a statewide machine recount if the final result is within half a percentage point, and a hand recount if the result is within a quarter percentage point. The Nelson-Scott race, as of Friday afternoon, was within 0.18 percentage point, with Scott holding a 14,985 lead with 8.2 million votes counted.
Under state law, all 67 counties must finish their count on Saturday by noon. The machine recount could begin that same day, with the results due by Nov. 15. A manual recount must be finished by Sunday, Nov. 18, and could start as early as Sunday.
This story has been updated with additional comment from Marc Elias and a comment from Sen. Marco Rubio.