Trump calls on Florida Democrat to concede, implies fraud
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump sought to intervene in Florida’s legally mandated vote recount Tuesday, calling on the state’s Democratic senator to admit defeat and again implying without evidence that officials in two pivotal counties are trying to steal the election.
“When will Bill Nelson concede in Florida?” Trump said in a morning tweet. “The characters running Broward and Palm Beach voting will not be able to ‘find’ enough votes, too much spotlight on them now!”
There have been bumps as Florida undergoes recounts for both the governor and Senate races. Palm Beach County said it won’t finish its recount by the Thursday deadline. In oft-criticized Broward County, additional sheriff’s deputies were sent to guard ballots and voting machines, a compromise aimed at alleviating concerns. Those counties are both Democratic strongholds.
Still, the state elections department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which are run by Republican appointees, have said they have seen no evidence of voter fraud. A Broward County judge challenged anyone who has evidence of fraud to file a report.
Meanwhile, a flurry of legal action continued. Nelson and a Democratic campaign committee filed two more lawsuits on Tuesday, including one that asks a federal judge to set aside looming deadlines for a machine recount as well as a hand recount, if it is ordered.
Presidents have historically sought to rise above the heated partisan drama surrounding election irregularities. Former President Barack Obama wasn’t so publicly involved when a recount and legal process in the 2008 election delayed a Democrat taking a Minnesota Senate seat until July 2009. Former President Bill Clinton struck a lower tone during the 2000 presidential recount, which also centered on Florida.
But this year, the Florida recount was personal for Trump. He aggressively campaigned in the state in the waning days of the election and put his finger on the scales of the Republican gubernatorial primary this summer by endorsing former Rep. Ron DeSantis. After Election Day, Trump’s aides pointed to the GOP’s seeming success in the state as a validation that the president’s path to re-election remained clear — a narrative that has grown hazier as the outcomes have become less certain.
White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said Tuesday the president “obviously has his opinion” on the recount.
“It’s been incredibly frustrating to watch,” she said.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump is attempting to bully Florida election officials out of doing their jobs. Schumer and Nelson, both Democrats, spoke with reporters Tuesday in Washington.
“It’s just plain wrong. It’s un-American.” Schumer said. “If he really wants an honest and fair election, President Trump will stop bullying, harassing and lying about the vote in Florida, and let the election proceed without the heavy hand of the president tipping the scale of justice.”
Schumer said election officials should have all the time they need to count every vote, rather than Sunday’s deadline. Nelson and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed two lawsuits aimed at that goal. One lawsuit questions rules used by the state for hand recounts, while a second asks a federal judge to give counties more time to complete both a machine and a hand recount. Right now counties are doing a machine recount.
Marc Elias, a campaign attorney for Nelson, contended there was no legal need for the existing deadlines since the Senate winner would not be sworn in until January.
Still, there’s not much choice but for Florida to go through the process. State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. In the Senate race, Republican Rick Scott’s lead over Nelson was 0.14 percentage points. In the governor’s contest, unofficial results showed Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis ahead of Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points.
Once the recount is complete, if the differences in any of the races are 0.25 percentage points or less, a hand recount will be ordered, meaning it could take even longer to complete the review of the Senate race if the difference remains narrow.
The recount process has drawn a sharp focus on several county election officials, especially Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.
Snipes has drawn criticism from Trump and other high-profile Republicans as her county’s election returns showed a narrowing lead for Scott during the ballot-counting in the days after Election Day, and even former Gov. Jeb Bush — who appointed her in 2003 — said she should be removed. Asked about those criticisms Tuesday, she hinted that she may not run for re-election in 2020.
“It is time to move on,” she said, later adding, “I’ll check with my family and they’ll tell me what I’m doing.”
Speaking to about 200 supporters in Orlando church Tuesday night, Gillum said claims without evidence by Trump, Scott and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio that electoral fraud was taking place were sowing seeds that could undermine confidence in the democratic process.
“Disenfranchisement shows up with the president of the United States, the sitting governor of the state of Florida, the junior senator of the United States from the state of Florida when they take to Twitter, and Facebook and ... accuse the supervisor of elections, or an entire county for that matter, of fraud, of stuffing the ballot box, of doing everything they could do manipulate the outcome of the election without a shred of evidence. That is called disenfranchisement,” Gillum said.
Meanwhile, in Palm Beach, Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said the county’s 11-year-old tallying machines aren’t fast enough to complete the recount by Thursday. The county is doing the Senate race first and will then do the governor’s race. If the deadline is not met in a race, the results it reported Saturday will stand.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; Gary Fineout and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; Mike Schneider in Orlando; and Alan Fram, Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics .