Top Florida Republicans are growing increasingly wary of vote counts underway in heavily Democratic Palm Beach and Broward counties, which have sharply narrowed the victory margins of both gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and senate candidate Rick Scott in the past 24 hours, and would now like the U.S. Department of Justice to dispatch observers to ensure the fair and accurate counting of votes.
Michael Barnett, the vice-chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, who also serves as the chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, told Newsmax in an exclusive interview Thursday afternoon that he would like the Justice Department to send observers to South Florida.
“When we have monitors watching to ensure fair elections, Republicans win,” he said. “And it keeps election officials from doing things they’re not supposed to be doing.”
He added: “We don’t have full confidence, unfortunately. These problems have happened all too often. We’d love to have [DOJ] observers coming and watching what’s going on in the inside.”
On Thursday afternoon, based on the latest vote tallies, outgoing Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s victory margin over incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson dropped from .27 of 1 percent to .22 percent. In Florida, an automatic machine recount is triggered whenever a candidate’s margin of victory falls below half of 1 percent. When the margin drops below one-quarter of 1 percent, as Scott’s did on Thursday, it triggers an automatic manual recount -- meaning the ballots are recounted by hand.
Also on Thursday, based on the new vote tallies, Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ margin of victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum dipped from .57 of 1 percent to .47. If DeSantis’ victory margin continues to be below half of 1 percent as the voting continues, his race will also be subject to a recount.
The post-election night vote counting in Florida appeared to flip the result Thursday afternoon in the battle for state agricultural commissioner, an important and powerful post in the Sunshine State. Democrat Nicole “Nikki” Fried now leads Republican Matt Caldwell by 575 votes in a race that is a virtual certainty to result in a manual recount.
Newsmax asked the Republican Party of Florida to respond to the changing vote tallies that threaten the apparent victories by DeSantis and Gillum.
The Party responded by sending an email statement DeSantis issued in response to the Newsmax inquiry.
“I was honored Tuesday night to be elected 46th Governor of the State of Florida,” DeSantis stated. “The results of the election were clear. I am now focused on the transition effort and will allow the legal efforts regarding the election to proceed, as is necessary, as the process unfolds.”
Florida has a colorful history of disputed election results, bitterly contentious recounts, and election lawsuits that have traveled all the way up to the Supreme Court for adjudication. The most famous, of course, was the Gore v. Bush “hanging chad” election in 2000.
Several anomalies have already turned up related to this year’s election. Democrats are alarmed that over 20,000 voters in Broward County cast votes for governor -- but did not indicate which candidate they preferred in the U.S. senate contest between Scott and Nelson. Nelson attorney Marc Elias has said he believes the vote-counting machines may have failed to read votes for senate in some cases. Others have suggested the layout of the ballot may have led voters to overlook the senate race when they voted.
Another potential controversy that began simmering Thursday: Some county election officials in Florida are refusing to release the names of voters who cast provisional ballots, because doing so could violate state laws against revealing how specific voters voted, they say. Other county officials are releasing the information, which the campaigns use to target provisional ballot casters they believe were likely to have voted in their favor. They urge those voters to go to election sites and provide identification so their ballots can be counted.
The best example of the dichotomy: The names of voters who cast provisional ballots in Broward County were released. But the names of voters who cast provisional ballots in neighboring Palm Beach County were not released.
“The supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County has refused to turn over any information on provisional ballot voters’ contact information,” Barnett told Newsmax. “They said they would not. So what we’ve been doing is calling the provisional ballot voters based on the lists we have obtained from Broward County, Miami-Dade County, and Duval County.”
Barnett was especially critical of Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes.
“Brenda Snipes is now in the center of a controversy again as regards to Broward County vote turnout,” he says. “I wish we could have those Department of Justice observers come back to Florida and target Palm Beach County and Broward County, so we can have a pair of eyes inside to see what’s going on.”
Barnett called the recount process “inevitable,” and said Republicans will have observers on hand when it takes place. He said it “looks like” the gubernatorial race between DeSantis and Gillum will now be subject “at least to a machine recount.”
“It seems like more and more votes are turning up for the Democrats the more we spend time counting in Democratic strong holds like those controlled by [Palm Beach County elections supervisor] Susan Bucher and Brenda Snipes,” Barnett told Newsmax. “It’s not totally unexpected, we’re not surprised. It is disappointing.”
Barnett added: “When we are unable to win elections outright beyond the margin of a recount, Democrats do sneaky things to find votes. We find Republicans lose elections when supervisors of elections who have histories of problems get involved, and we have recounts. Boxes of ballots show up in trunks of cars and in closets. It’s disappointing. We’ve seen it over and over again. We saw it in the [former House Rep.] Allen West race in 2012 and nothing has changed with these leaders.”
Barnett said he has been told Florida supervisors of elections are required to submit their final vote counts to state officials by noon Saturday. Once those numbers are reviewed, state election officials will decide if recounts are necessary.
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