FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The recount of Florida's razor-thin Senate and gubernatorial races got off to a bumpy start with some mishaps and litigation Sunday, bringing back memories of the 2000 presidential fiasco.
In Democratic-leaning Broward County, the start of the recount was delayed because of a problem with one of the tabulation machines. The Republican Party attacked Broward's supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, of "incompetence and gross mismanagement" following the delay, which was resolved within two hours.
The county, the state's second-most populous, is emerging as the epicenter of controversy in the recount. Broward officials said they mistakenly counted 22 absentee ballots that had been rejected, mostly because the signature on the return envelope did not match the one on file. It is a problem that appears impossible to fix because the ballots were mixed in with 205 legal ballots. Snipes said it would be unfair to throw out all the ballots.
Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican candidate for Senate, filed suit in a circuit court later Sunday against Snipes as Broward's election supervisor. The suit seeks a judge's order that law enforcement agents impound and secure all voting machines, tallying devices and ballots "when not in use until such time as any recounts."
The lawsuit said Snipes repeatedly failed to account for the number of ballots left to be counted, "obfuscated her ballot processing procedures" and failed to report results regularly as required by law.
The suit came as some of the state's largest counties struggled to begin the recount process.
In Palm Beach County, another Democratic stronghold, the supervisor of elections said she doesn't believe her department will be able to meet the state's Thursday deadline to complete the recount.
The recount in most other major population centers, including Miami-Dade and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the Tampa Bay area, was ongoing without incident on Sunday. Smaller counties are expected to begin their reviews Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
The reviews are an unprecedented step in Florida, a state that's notorious for election results decided by the thinnest of margins. State officials said they weren't aware of any other time either a race for governor or U.S. Senate in Florida required a recount, let alone both in the same election.
Unofficial results show that Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points in the election for governor. In the Senate race, Scott's lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is 0.14 percentage points.
State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. Once completed, if the differences in any of the races are 0.25 percentage points or below, a hand recount will be ordered.
As the recount unfolded, Republicans urged their Democratic opponents to give up and allow the state to move on. Scott said Sunday that Nelson wants fraudulent ballots and those cast by noncitizens to count, pointing to a Nelson lawyer objecting to Palm Beach County's rejection of one provisional ballot because it was cast by a noncitizen.
"He is trying to commit fraud to win this election," Scott told Fox News. "Bill Nelson's a sore loser. He's been in politics way too long."
Nelson's campaign issued a statement Sunday saying their lawyer wasn't authorized to object to the ballot's rejection as "Non-citizens cannot vote in US elections."
Gillum and Nelson have argued each vote should be counted and the process allowed to take its course. Both the state elections division, which Scott runs, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have said they have found no evidence of voter fraud.
That didn't stop protests outside Snipes' office, where a crowd of mostly Republicans gathered Sunday, holding signs, listening to country music and occasionally chanting "lock her up," referring to Snipes.
A massive Trump 2020 flag flew over the parking lot and many members of a Bikers For Trump group wore matching shirts and carried flags, mingling among a crowd that included a protester wearing a Hillary Clinton mask.
Registered independent Russell Liddick, a 38-year-old retail worker from Pompano Beach carried a sign reading, "I'm not here for Trump! I'm here for fair elections! Fire Snipes!" He said the office's problems "don't make me feel very much like my vote counted."
Florida is also conducting a recount in a third statewide race. Democrat Nikki Fried had a 0.07 percentage point lead over Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell in the race for agriculture commissioner, one of Florida's three Cabinet seats.
From a distant glance, the recounts might dredge up memories of the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W. Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, thus giving Bush the presidency.
But much has changed since then. In 2000, each county had its own voting system. Many used punch cards — voters poked out chads, leaving tiny holes in their ballots representing their candidates. Some voters, however, didn't fully punch out the presidential chad or gave it just a little push. Those hanging and dimpled chads had to be examined by the canvassing boards, a lengthy, tiresome and often subjective process that became fodder for late-night comedians.
Now the state requires that all Florida counties use ballots where voters use a pen to mark their candidate's name, much like a student does when taking a multiple-choice test. It also now clearly mandates how the recount will proceed.
Those ballots are now being run through scanning machines in each county for a second time under the watchful eye of representatives of both parties and the campaigns. Any ballot that cannot be read for any of the recounted races will be put aside.
AP writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this report.