TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – “This process is about one thing, making sure that every legal ballot is counted and protecting the right of every Floridian to participate in our democracy.” Those are the first words since the election from Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who released a videotaped statement Friday afternoon. “No one should stand in the way of the people of our state exercising their right to vote and have their voice heard.”
“Clearly, Rick Scott is trying to stop all of the votes from being counted and he is impeding the democratic process. You can see this from his irresponsible, unethical and unprecedented press statement last night that he’s worried and he’s desperate,” stated Nelson in the video statement.
“The reason he feels this way is obvious. We believe when every legal ballot is counted we will win this election. A public office is a public trust. I won’t stand for anyone using his position to undermine our democratic process and neither should the people of Florida.”
Nelson said, “It’s wrong and it goes against every value we have in our country. Scott is abusing the full force of his public office as Governor to stop a complete and accurate counting of all the votes in Florida, which would determine whether he wins or loses. The Governor has decided to abandon that most fundamental of all rights because he fears he would lose the election if all of the votes are counted. He isn’t telling the truth, which is votes are not being found, they’re being counted. We will continue to ensure this election is conducted fairly, the rule of law is followed, and the democratic process is fulfilled.”
WATCH SEN. BILL NELSON’S ENTIRE VIDEOTAPED STATEMENT HERE
Earlier in the day, an attorney for Nelson compared Gov. Rick Scott’s use of a state law-enforcement agency to investigate the actions of elections officials in Palm Beach and Broward counties to a “Third World dictatorship.”
Nelson’s attorney Marc Elias, who has been involved in recounts across the country and has become a target of Republicans claiming Democrats are trying to “steal” the election, made the comment as ballots continued to be counted in Scott’s bid to unseat Nelson.
Scott called a news conference Thursday night to announce that his campaign had filed lawsuits against elections supervisors in Palm Beach and Broward and that he had asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. Elias said Friday that Scott’s “tone and the tenor and behavior” reflects a campaign that doesn’t believe it is winning as a recount nears.
During his news conference Thursday night, Scott didn’t take questions to further explain what state law-enforcement officers would investigate. Scott blasted the elections supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties as “incompetent” and part of an effort to “thwart the will of the people.”
As it turns out, there is no investigation. Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Scott did not submit his request in writing, and that no allegation of voter fraud in Broward has been sent to the Department of State, which oversees elections.
“We do not have an active investigation,” Plessinger said.
The lawsuits filed against Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher and Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes seek more access by party members to the canvassing process.
Friday afternoon, a Broward judge ruled in favor of Gov. Rick Scott and says Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes must “allow immediate” viewing and copying of records that have been requested.
The judge added that it must be completed by 7 p.m.
Scott’s apparent Tuesday night victory over Nelson by 56,000 votes had narrowed to a margin of less than 15,000 by Friday afternoon. That margin would trigger an automatic recount after counties submit unofficial election results to the state by a noon Saturday deadline.
A Democrat, Snipes was first appointed to her position in 2003 by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. She has been re-elected four times.
The U.S. Senate contest is one of three statewide races expected to require a recount.
As of Friday afternoon, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis led Democrat Andrew Gillum by a little more than 36,000 votes, while Democrat Nikki Fried was up slightly more than 3,000 votes in her battle with Republican Matt Caldwell to become state agriculture commissioner.
The campaigns and political parties have lawyered up in advance of the pending recounts. Contests with a margin of 0.5 percent or less qualify for automatic machine recounts by every county elections office involved in the contest. Hand recounts would be required if the margins are .25 percent or less.
State Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican elected to Congress on Tuesday, urged the U.S. Justice Department to oversee the recounts.
“Some of our election officials have demonstrated that they are incapable of properly doing the job they were elected to do. Floridians have a right to be skeptical of the recount process if it is monitored by the very people responsible for this delay,” Steube said in a statement.
Caldwell, claiming “we will fight to ensure this election is accurate and fair,” also unleashed criticism of Snipes on Thursday.
“We have watched Brenda Snipes and the Broward supervisor of elections demonstrate gross incompetence and potential corruption election cycle after election cycle,” said Caldwell, who had declared victory Tuesday night. “Over the past two days, Snipes’ office has refused to give either an accurate count of outstanding ballots or where they come from, all while the Democratic candidates continue to pick up tens of thousands of new votes. Ms. Snipes’ office has a record of incompetence and illegal behavior.”
Caldwell added that his legal team was pursuing “every option” and expressed confidence that he will be the next agriculture commissioner.
But after Fried went ahead in the count Thursday, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo sent out a statement on Fried’s “victory.”
“Today’s victory, while belated, is a victory for all of Florida as Nikki will be a strong advocate for everyone and will fight to protect our environment, our health care, and consumer rights,” Rizzo said.
(©2018 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)