On Thursday, a federal judge in Tallahassee threw yet another wrench into the process of finalizing the vote tallies in the battle for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat between incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and GOP Gov. Rick Scott. As the 3 p.m. deadline approached for counties to report the results of a machine recount in the races for the Nelson-Scott race, as well as the elections for governor and agriculture commissioner, U.S. District Court judge Mark Walker, who was nominated to the U.S. District Court by former president Barack Obama in 2012, extended the deadline to Saturday at 5 p.m. for voters whose votes weren’t tabulated due to signature problems.
Scott leads Nelson by 12,652 votes while GOP governor nominee Ron DeSantis leads Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum by 33,633 votes.
The Orlando Sentinel reports, “According to state data presented during a five-hour hearing Wednesday, with 47 of the 67 counties reporting, there were 3,781 ballots rejected for mismatched signatures, including 467 in Orange County.”
Walker stated, “The precise issue in this case is whether Florida’s law that allows county election officials to reject vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for mismatched signatures — with no standards, an illusory process to cure, and no process to challenge the rejection — passes constitutional muster. The answer is simple. It does not.”
Walker had his doubts over the efficacy of canvassing boards, which include the local supervisor of elections, a local judge, and a county commissioner, and decide whether a vote should be counted,.
Attorneys for Nelson and the Florida Democratic Party argued that a problematic signature could arise from injury or illness; attorneys from the Florida Department of State and the National Republican Senatorial Committee asserted that fraud was a genuine concern.
Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said, “We are immediately appealing this baseless decision and we are confident we will prevail in the Eleventh Circuit. Let’s be clear- Bill Nelson’s high-priced Washington lawyers went to court to argue against a process that they previously argued for. It’s worth noting that Marc Elias is currently making THE EXACT OPPOSITE ARGUMENT in a similar case in Arizona.”
If the results tabulated by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline show a race closer than 0.25%, a manual recount will be triggered. That would engender the review of overvotes, in which a voter voted for more than one candidate, and undervotes, in which the voter left the ballot blank. The Sentinel explained, “Valid votes are then added to the totals in the machine recount. Those results would be due Sunday at noon under deadlines set in state law. Voters who successfully challenge their rejected ballots could have their votes added to that total … Official results are scheduled to be certified at 9 a.m. Tuesday.”
Walker was made a Florida Circuit Judge in Tallahassee in 2009. Between 1999 and 2009, Walker was in private practice, specializing in civil litigation and criminal defense. Between 1997 and 1999, Walker served as an Assistant Public Defender for Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit.