FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Republican Gov. Rick Scott has filed at least five lawsuits since Thursday against county election officials and instructed state police to investigate them for “fraud.” But on Monday, a group of Florida voters and organizations filed their own lawsuit that alleges Scott has illegally abused his power as governor to swing the outcome of his own high-profile race for US senator, wielding the threat of a crackdown and controlling state government in order to stop legal votes from being counted.
Scott’s tiny lead has shrunk in the Senate race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson as late votes were tallied last week in urban, left-leaning counties around Miami, causing Republicans to panic and accuse Democrats of trying to “steal” the election. Officials up and down Florida started a machine recount of the midterm vote Saturday, as mandated by law when the margins whittle below 0.5%, yet Scott has stood outside the governor’s mansion to decry Democrats and local officials.
“Scott’s continued interventions in the race violate the basic notion of fairness that no man should be a judge in his own cause,” says the suit filed by a voter in Broward County, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and Common Cause Florida. The groups are government transparency organizations that say they have members who backed Scott and Nelson. Another plaintiff is Joanne Lynch Aye, a voter in Broward County.
The group Protect Democracy filed the lawsuit for the plaintiffs.
As an example of a conflict of interest, Scott sits on the state canvassing board that certifies elections and appoints its members, the complaint says. Further, he appoints the Florida secretary of state, who must determine later this week if Scott’s race must also be subjected to a hand recount of the ballots, and he oversees the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
Although he was talking about his Senate campaign, Scott stood outside the Florida Governor’s Mansion for a press conference Thursday to accuse officials in Palm Beach County and Broward County of “rampant fraud,” the complaint explains. He said he would “not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.” Scott then joined Fox News’ Sean Hannity Show to say, “So, it’s clear we’ve got some left-wing activists, we’ve got some Democrat DC lawyers, down here for one purpose — to steal this election.”
US District Court Judge Mark Walker denied the plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order on Monday night, instead scheduling a phone hearing on Wednesday at 10 a.m. to discuss their parallel call for a preliminary injunction, which would also bar Scott from overseeing the recount. Walker noted that Scott’s lawyers have yet to tell they court they have received the complaint.
Scott has violated the constitutional due process rights of voters to have their votes counted fairly, while also overstepping their rights by intimidating election officials based on their party affiliation, says the complaint filed in the Northern District of Florida.
It calls on the court to issue a restraining order that blocks Scott from using his position as governor in any way relating to the election recount.
Ballots that were counted last week by machine in the populous, Democratically dominated Broward County show tens of thousands of “undervotes” in Scott’s race — in which voters picked no candidate in the race — and a hand recount, which involves a visual inspection, could show markings on the ballots that reveal voters intended to pick Nelson.
Scott told the FDLE to begin a probe of local officials for fraud Thursday, but the agency promptly said it had no allegations or evidence of fraud.
“Tonight, I am asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate this immediately, and I am considering every single legal option available,” Scott said in front of the Florida Governor’s Mansion on Thursday. “No ragtag group of liberal activists or lawyers from DC will be allowed to steal this election from the voters in the state of Florida. I am proud to be the next senator from the State of Florida.”
On Sunday, Attorney General Pam Bondi, one of Scott’s political allies, sent FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen a letter, saying, “Your duty to investigate this matter is clear. I am directing you to take the necessary steps to promote public safety and to ensure our state will guarantee integrity in our election process.”
The complaint filed Monday says this amounts to Scott using his long arms to influence the election process.
“Making matters worse, Bondi is one of the two hand-picked officials whom Defendant Scott appointed to the [Elections Canvassing Commission], which has ultimate authority over the review and certification of the very election that Defendant Scott is hoping to secure,” the court record says. “Together, Defendant Scott and Bondi have a blocking position on the ECC and could certify an election result over any dissent.”
The complaint makes three legal claims. The first says he’s violated due process rights of voters under the 14th Amendment since he is not a neutral decision maker. “As a result of Defendant Scott’s conflict of interest and threats of intimidation, it would be improper, unfair, and contrary to the due process of law for Defendant Scott to have the power to certify the winners of the 2018 election,” court documents say. It goes on to allege that Scott’s action violates First Amendment rights to free association by trying to burden one political party affiliation over another. Finally, it alleges he is denying equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment by trying to make sure some people’s votes aren’t counted “fairly and accurately.”
Scott filed three suits on Sunday seeking “emergency” injunctions to impound ballots and voting equipment in two largely Democratic counties, essentially putting voting records under the watch of law enforcement officials when not being used during a recount. A third lawsuit that day sought to stop local officials from submitting any newly counted ballots to the state. That came after Scott filed two other cases Thursday alleging that local officials were hiding records — judges agreed and ordered county elections supervisors to hand over records to Scott’s campaign and a local canvassing board.
The state recount also includes the race of Republican Ron DeSantis’s 0.41% lead against Democrat Andrew Gillum.