FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s election recount drama is intensifying as lawyers return to court and tallying machines break down ahead of a Thursday deadline to complete reviews of the Senate and governor races.
Much of the trouble centers on the Democratic stronghold of Palm Beach County, where tallying machines have overheated. That's caused mismatched results with the recount of 174,000 early voting ballots, forcing workers to go back and redo their work with no time to spare.
A mechanic was flown in to fix the problems, but "we don't have a lot of assurances," Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher told WPTV Tuesday night. Bucher did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Democrats planned to ask a federal judge on Wednesday 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.
There are now multiple lawsuits piling up in a Tallahassee federal court challenging everything from the rules used for recounts to Gov. Scott's role in supervising the state office that oversees elections.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, citing a well-known "Star Trek" episode, said during a hearing Wednesday that "I feel a little bit like Captain Kirk in the episode with the Tribbles where they start to multiply."
The developments are fueling frustrations among Democrats and Republicans as the recount unfolds more than a week after Election Day. Democrats have urged state officials to do whatever it takes to make sure every vote is counted. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have argued without evidence that voter fraud threatens to steal races from the GOP.
As it all plays out, the Republican candidates for governor and Senate, Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott, hold the narrowest of leads over their Democratic counterparts, Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson.
Scott was in Washington D.C. while the court battles raged on. He stood at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's left shoulder Wednesday when the Kentucky Republican welcomed GOP senators who will take their seats in January when the new Congress is sworn in.
During the brief photo op in McConnell's Capitol office, Scott did not reply to a question about whether he contends there was fraud in the election.
In South Florida, dozens of workers keep feeding ballots into counting machines at the Broward and Palm Beach County elections centers. Much like feeding documents into photocopiers, they've been placing stacks into feeders that run through several ballots per second. Then they grab another stack and do it again.
Trump has called on Democratic Nelson to admit that he lost his re-election bid.
"When will Bill Nelson concede in Florida?" the president tweeted Tuesday. "The characters running Broward and Palm Beach voting will not be able to 'find' enough votes, too much spotlight on them now!"
Presidents have historically sought to rise above partisan dramas surrounding election irregularities. Former President Barack Obama wasn't so publicly involved when a recount and legal process in the 2008 election delayed a Democrat taking a Minnesota Senate seat until July 2009. Former President Bill Clinton struck a quieter tone during the 2000 presidential recount, which also centered on Florida.
But this Florida recount has been personal for Trump. He aggressively campaigned in the state, putting his finger on the scales of the Republican gubernatorial primary by endorsing DeSantis. After Election Day, Trump's aides pointed to the GOP's seeming success in the state as a validation that the president's path to re-election remained clear — a narrative that has grown hazier as the outcomes have become less certain.
White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said Tuesday the president "obviously has his opinion" on the recount.
"It's been incredibly frustrating to watch," she said.
State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. In the Senate race, Scott's lead over Nelson was 0.14 percentage points. In the governor's contest, unofficial results showed DeSantis ahead of Gillum by 0.41 percentage points.
Once the machine recount is complete, a hand recount will be ordered in any race where the difference is 0.25 percentage points or less, meaning it could take even longer to complete the review of the Senate race if the difference remains narrow.
If the Senate race does go to a hand recount, the deadline for counties to finish is Sunday. But two of the pending four lawsuits ask that a federal judge delay the deadlines so that all counties can finish processing the crush of ballots.
Marc Elias, an attorney for Nelson, argued that there's no need to rush, since the winner of the Nelson-Scott race won't be sworn into office until January.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; Jennifer Kay and Freida Frisaro in Miami; and Alan Fram, Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.