Nelson asks federal court to get rid of Florida recount deadlines

Lawsuit seeks to do away with state's 'compressed' timeline to complete recount

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor
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Gov. Rick Scott is trying to unseat Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, is asking a federal court to throw out the state's recount deadlines, arguing that there isn't enough time to count all the votes.

Nelson's lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, seeks injunctive relief to extend the state-mandated deadlines for both the machine and manual recounts.

The deadline for the machine recount is 3 p.m. Thursday, while the deadline for the manual recount is noon Sunday.

"Given the extraordinarily compressed deadlines for completing a recount and the large number of races currently subject to machine recount, local elections officials are faced with a difficult task," the lawsuit said.

Nelson's lawsuit cites Palm Beach County -- a Democratic stronghold -- as one such example.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher has said she didn't believe elections workers would be able to complete the recount in time.

Under Florida law, if any counties fail to complete a recount by the deadline, the state reverts back to previously reported results.

Unofficial results have Nelson currently trailing Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott for his Senate seat by 0.14 percentage points.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Saturday ordered a statewide recount in the Senate race, as well as for governor and agriculture commissioner. State law requires a recount for races in which the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points.

"Because only some counties -- given their size or other relevant factors -- will be unable to meet the deadlines, voters will either have their vote counted during a recount or rejected based on the accident of where they reside," the lawsuit said.

In Broward County, elections workers were scrambling to recount all the votes by Thursday's deadline, having spent the first few days sorting the ballots. The first page of each ballot contains all the races that are being recounted.

But it was a different story in Miami-Dade County, where elections workers were expected to be done well before the deadline.

Nelson's opponent and even President Donald Trump have accused Democrats of trying to steal the election, even though there has been no evidence of fraud.

Chris Hartline, spokesman for Scott's Senate campaign, said Nelson is trying to skirt Florida law.

However, Marc Elias, an attorney for Nelson's campaign, said it's important that "counties have the time" to complete an accurate recount.

"The deadlines set out in Florida law are extraordinarily compressed," the lawsuit said.

It asks a federal court to intervene before the deadlines pass so that "voters whose ballots have been improperly rejected to date are not disenfranchised."

A Florida judge has already issued an order suspending Thursday's deadline in Palm Beach County, but Nelson's lawsuit seeks to extend the recount and certification deadlines for all 67 counties.

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