Florida election recount: Palm Beach County forced to restart vote count after ballot machines overheat

Republicans have been claiming without evidence that the automatically triggered recount is an effort by Democrats to steal the election

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 14 November 2018 19:09 GMT
The recount has seen a flurry of lawsuits from Democrats and Republicans alike
The recount has seen a flurry of lawsuits from Democrats and Republicans alike (AP)

The contentious election recounts in Florida over close Senate and governor races has hit yet another stumbling block after Palm Beach County was forced to restart its process when machines overheated.

That means the county has just days to count 175,000 early votes for the recount to meet a looming deadline, which officials in the county had already called “impossible”. The original deadline was set for Thursday, but a judge on Tuesday extended the deadline for Palm Beach County by five days.

To fix the current issue in the county, the elections department has flown mechanics in to repair the machines — which are a decade old.

“We’re disappointed by the mechanical problems that are going to cause a further delay in the recount,” Susan Bucher, the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, told The Miami Herald. “It became evident through the vigorous pace of counting that the machines used for the recount were starting to get stressed”.

These ballot counting issues come as Republicans at the state and national level have ratcheted up rhetoric by claiming that Democrats are attempting to steal the election, and that voter fraud is undermining the democratic process in Florida. They have provided no evidence of voter fraud, or that Democrats were attempting to “steal” the election in anyway.

Instead, the recounts in Florida’s closely watched Senate and gubernatorial races was triggered automatically because the initial results were within a 0.5 per cent margin.

In the aftermath, Democrat Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott, who is currently the governor of the state, have filed a flurry of lawsuits. They are all piling up in a Tallahassee federal court, challenging everything from the rules used for recounts to Mr Scott's role in supervising the state office that oversees elections.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Democrats asked a federal judge to set aside the state law mandating that mailed-in votes be thrown out if the signature on the envelope doesn't match the signature on file.

US District Judge Mark Walker, citing a well-known Star Trek episode, said during the hearing that "I feel a little bit like Captain Kirk in the episode with the Tribbles where they start to multiply."

Mr Scott has now agreed to recuse himself from the certification of the results according to his lawyers - with the recount being conducted by the government he oversees as governor.

While most of the state has a recount deadline of Thursday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has said that counties should continue to count votes if they roll past the deadline for final tallies. It is not clear what missed deadlines would mean for the Sunday deadline for the state to certify its election results, however.

But, if the state storms ahead to certify results before every proper vote is counted, University of Miami constitutional and election law expert Frances Hilll says that the state could see an intensified legal battle and a full-blown state constitutional crisis.

“The idea we’re going to say Florida can vote, but we’re only going to count the votes we have time to count is untenable under American election law,” Ms Hill told The Miami Herald. “We had this artificial deadline in the Bush v Gore mess and the [US} Supreme Court used that to throw the Florida courts out of the picture and just take over”.

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