A Broward County judge on Monday turned down Gov. Rick Scott’s request to “impound and secure” all voting machines in Broward’s elections headquarters when they’re not being used to recount ballots in his U.S. Senate race against incumbent Bill Nelson.
But Circuit Judge Jack Tuter offered a compromise: Add three Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies to the current lineup of BSO deputies, local police officers and private security guards overseeing the recount underway at the county’s elections center in Lauderhill.
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Citing a lack of evidence pointing to any wrongdoing, Tuter stopped short of granting the Scott campaign’s request for an injunction to impound the machines. But he agreed with Scott’s lawyers that “there needs to be an additional layer of confidence” in the vote-recount system in Broward. The votes in the U.S. Senate race between Scott, the Republican, and Nelson, the Democrat, are part of the recount. Unofficially, Scott leads Nelson by about 12,500 votes.
Tuter asked the lawyers representing Scott’s campaign and attorneys for Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes to come back later in the day with a security plan to assign the three additional BSO deputies to protect the voting machines and ballots during the recount of races for U.S. Senate, Florida’s governor and state agriculture commissioner.
They eventually agreed that the three additional BSO deputies will monitor the on-site surveillance cameras of ballot machines and votes, and they will monitor the USB drives that are uploaded at the end of each day’s recount. They will report to a BSO supervisor — not to Snipes herself.
The judge ordered that the deputies will start a 24/7 operation immediately that will run through Thursday at 3 p.m. — despite the fact that the recount of votes in Broward may not begin until Tuesday.
These new officers will join a contingent that has already been in place since Election Day, consisting of seven Lauderhill police officers, two BSO deputies and four private security guards.
Tuter also warned the lawyers for all the candidates engaged in recounts to tone down their political attacks because the nation’s eyes are on Broward once again — an obvious reference to Florida’s fiercely contested presidential recount in 2000.
“I am urging [the lawyers] to ramp down the rhetoric,” Tuter told more than 15 lawyers gathered in his courtroom for the Scott campaign’s emergency motion on a national holiday, Veterans Day, when the court would normally be closed. “We have to be careful about what we say.”
Moments before the judge proposed his compromise, Scott’s lawyer, Jason Zimmerman, accused Broward’s supervisor of elections of violating Florida laws, saying the integrity of the midterm election was at stake. He cited past irregularities and mistakes by her office, and highlighted another Broward judge’s decision on Friday ordering Snipes to turn over to Scott’s campaign certain records of ballots cast in the general election.
“We have a trust issue with this county,” Zimmerman said. “We have a trust issue with this process. We must do something now.”
Snipes’ attorney, Eugene Pettis, and Florida Democratic Party lawyer Leonard Samuels said during the hearing that if the judge granted the Scott campaign’s motion for the injunction, it would “send the wrong message” to the public and suggest some type of malfeasance on her part where none exists.
Asked afterward if the supervisor was going to meet Thursday’s deadline, Pettis said: “We have every intention of meeting it.”
“There has been no evidence of fraud,” he added, alluding to accusations by Scott himself and President Donald Trump.
Snipes also took offense at the hostile attacks coming her way, saying lawsuits filed by Scott’s campaign “certainly cast aspersions on my character.”
“I’ve worked here for about 15 years, and I have to say this is the first time that this office or I have been under such attacks,” Snipes said. “If we make mistakes, we own mistakes. If there’s something the public needs to know, then we provide that information.”
Then Snipes took a punch at President Trump, who has criticized her office: “We’re in an era when people oftentimes speak without having vetted the information. I’m not sure where the president gets his information from. I’ve not spoken with him.”
In other election-related lawsuits, Nelson’s Senate campaign sued the Florida Department of State in an effort to count mail-in ballots that were postmarked before Election Day but not delivered before the polls closed. Florida law says they cannot be counted if they arrived after 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Nelson’s attorney, Marc Elias, filed the suit Monday, saying voters should not be faulted for the late delivery of absentee ballots. He cited the example of a few hundred mail-in ballots that were postmarked before Nov. 6 but got stranded at an Opa-locka postal facility, possibly because of an FBI investigation into a Miami-Dade man who sent pipe bombs through the mail before the election.
Elias told reporters that the suit aims to allow properly post-marked absentees to be counted until 10 days after the election — just like those of overseas military members.
Miami Herald staff writer Martin Vassolo contributed to this report.