By BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Gov. Rick Scott has alleged — without citing evidence — that elections officials in South Florida are trying to "steal" the election for Democrats as razor-thin margins raise the specter of recounts and court battles in the state's races for Senate and governor.
In the governor's race, Democrat Andrew Gillum's campaign said Thursday it's readying for a possible recount. The race has tightened since he conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis on Tuesday night. As of Thursday afternoon, DeSantis led Gillum by 0.47 percentage point.
Meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson has begun preparing for a potential recount in a race still too close to call against Scott, who is leaving the governor's seat because of term limits. Nelson's lawyer called that race a "jump ball." Scott's campaign urged Nelson to concede. Scott held a 0.21 percentage lead over Nelson on Thursday afternoon.
Florida's is a perennial swing state, and many of its elections have been decided by the thinnest of margins since 2000, when Florida decided the presidency by 537 votes in a contest that took more than five weeks to sort out. Still, the state has never seen so many dead heats in one year.
And like 2000, the counting process is becoming contentious.
Scott said at a news conference Thursday night that he was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections offices in the Democratic strongholds of Palm Beach and Broward counties, questioning whether they are taking too long in vote-counting in some sort of effort to inflate the Democratic vote.
"I will not stand idly by as unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida," Scott said.
Scott cited no evidence of wrongdoing, and the counties have until noon Saturday to report their unofficial vote count. FDLE Spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the law enforcement agency would follow up on Scott's request. But the agency did not announce an investigation.
Scott's campaign separately filed a lawsuit demanding that the Broward County supervisor of elections turn over several records detailing the counting and collection of ballots cast for each day of the past week. A hearing on that case was set for Friday afternoon.
Nelson's campaign released a statement saying Scott's action appears to be politically motivated and borne of desperation.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump tweeted: "Law Enforcement is looking into another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach. Florida voted for Rick Scott!"
Trump also said it was possible the federal government could get involved in the Florida vote count. "All of the sudden they are finding votes out of nowhere," he said. "What's going on in Florida is a disgrace."
Under Florida law, a recount is mandatory if the winning candidate's margin is less than 0.5 percentage points when the first unofficial count is verified Saturday by Florida's secretary of state.
Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State, didn't know of any other recount in a governor or Senate race in state history.
The Associated Press has called the governor's race for DeSantis. If Saturday's count shows DeSantis with a margin narrow enough to trigger a recount, AP will retract its call for DeSantis. It is AP policy not to call a race that is facing a recount.
The AP has not called a winner in the Senate race.
Gillum's campaign said it has hired attorney Barry Richard, who represented President George W. Bush in the 2000 recount, and is monitoring the situation. Gillum's campaign said his initial concession Tuesday night was based on "best information available about the number of outstanding ballots" at the time.
"Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported," the campaign said. "We are committed to ensuring every single vote in Florida is counted."
DeSantis declined to discuss prospects for a recount, telling reporters he's "very proud to be elected."
"We're working really hard on the transition," he said.
Florida was mocked for its handling of the infamous 2000 recount. At the time, the state lacked uniform rules for how to proceed. That has changed, with the Legislature passing a clear procedure on how a recount should be conducted.
"This is not like it was in 2000. There's not a lot of room for strategy," Richard said.
Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes said she didn't know how many ballots remain to be counted, but all were being processed. She also did not know how many provisional, military and mismarked ballots need to be counted. Her department's website said ballots cast on Election Day have been counted.
Marc Elias, a lawyer hired by Nelson, said he expects the margin to narrow further.
"The results of the 2018 Senate election are unknown and I think that you and the elections officials should treat it as such," Elias told reporters on a conference call. "We believe that at the end of this process that Senator Nelson is going to be declared the winner."
Once Florida counties submit their unofficial election results to the Department of State, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee, will review the results and decide whether to order recounts.
In yet a third statewide seat — the Cabinet position of agriculture commissioner — the candidates were separated by 483 votes out of more than 8 million cast — a margin of 0.006 percent.
Associated Press writer Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale and Ellis Rua in Hialeah Gardens contributed to this report.