A federal judge dealing with a challenge to enforcement of state law on handling mailed and provisional ballot gave each side some of what they wanted — and ensured that the post-election process lasts just a wee bit longer. Thousands of ballots with mismatched signatures won’t get thrown out, nor will they be automatically counted either. Instead, the judge extended the deadline for “curing” signature issues until Saturday, giving over 3700 voters one last chance to validate their ballots:
Florida’s election recount was thrown once more into uncertainty Thursday when a federal judge ruled that thousands of voters whose mail-in and provisional ballots were rejected because of issues with their signatures will have two more days to resolve the problems and possibly have their votes counted.
The late-night decision by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee came just hours ahead of 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon deadline for elections officials to complete a machine recount. In the too-close-to-call Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott leads Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by fewer than 13,000 votes. …
Walker’s decision would affect Floridians who cast their ballots by mail, or voted provisionally, but whose signatures did not match records maintained by the state. State officials said out of 47 of the 67 counties reporting, there were 3,781 ballots rejected for mismatched signatures, including 467 in Orange County.
Call this a rare Solomonic moment in Florida electoral history. Incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson’s campaign wanted to have the court remove the signature requirement altogether, while Republican Rick Scott’s campaign wanted the original Nov. 5th deadline for “curing” such issues enforced. Walker essentially split the baby, even though he agreed in principle with Nelson’s argument that the signature process was unconstitutional. Walker ruled that it was too late in the process for a sweeping ruling to eliminate it, using a football analogy:
“Football fans may quibble about the substance of the rules, but no one quibbles that rules are necessary to play the game.”
Lost in all of the haggling is the simple math in the equation. As of this morning, without the recount results from around the state being submitted yet, Nelson trails Scott by more than 12,500 votes. Even if all 3,781 ballots went to Nelson, he’d still trail by nearly 9,000 votes — still far out of range for changes due to recounts.
Both sides could appeal this decision, and the Orlando Sentinel seems to think Scott will do so. It’s unclear, based on the math, what benefit either side would get by attempting to force the issue in either direction. An appellate court would likely accept Walker’s solution as a pragmatic compromise, especially since it won’t affect the two parties in this lawsuit — although it could still impact the race for agriculture commissioner.
Meanwhile, Floridians finally got some good news out of Broward County. Except for the issue of provisional ballots, election officials finished the recount overnight:
After days of being in the national spotlight – and being criticized by everyone from candidates to protesters from both major political parties – Broward County completed their machine recount of votes for three offices in the 2018 election ahead of Thursday’s deadline.
Workers put the last ballots to be counted through machines at election headquarters in Lauderhill around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night. Officials will spend the remaining time before the 3 p.m. deadline Thursday going through ballots that were mailed in or not able to be read by the machines.
Walker’s ruling means Broward will have to wait for Saturday to close out their counting of provisional and mail-in ballots. It might also have given them more time for the recount of the rest of the ballots, although they didn’t need it. But what about in Palm Beach, where Susan Bucher warned they might not make the deadline? It turns out they weren’t working terribly hard to meet it in the first place:
Hours away from the #Florida #election #recount. Here at the Palm Beach County tabulation center… silence. Supervisor of Elections said: “We’re doing everything in our human power possible to make this happen.” pic.twitter.com/c0iicm9fl2
— Kara Duffy (@KaraDuffyCBS12) November 15, 2018
Not even Walker’s Solomonic instincts can save Palm Beach County from the incompetence and despair of its public officials, apparently. Perhaps the two-day extension will light a fire under Bucher’s seat, if anyone can find her sitting in it.