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Democrats send lawyers while Republicans cry foul

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott is declaring victory in a hard-fought and expensive race for U.S. Senate. The Associated Press has not yet called the race. (Nov 7)
AP

WASHINGTON – Democrats have an “army of lawyers” working on the likely recount that will decide the winner of the Florida Senate race, the head of the Democratic National Committee said Thursday.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, responded that the other party isn’t playing fair.

“Now democrat lawyers are descending on #Florida,” Rubio tweeted Thursday. “They have been very clear they aren’t here to make sure every vote is counted. They are here to change the results of election.”

Fewer than 17,400 votes out of more than 8.1 million cast separated Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson as of Thursday afternoon. That’s inside the 0.25 point margin that dictates a hand recount of ballots that showed either no vote or more than one vote cast in the Senate race.

But the totals could change before noon Saturday when counties submit preliminary unofficial results to the state. 

“It’s a jump ball,” said Marc Elias, the lawyer overseeing the recount effort for Nelson.

Recounts are also possible in the Florida races for governor and agriculture commissioner.

Elias, who has been called by The Washington Post a “go-to lawyer for Democrats in recount fights and redistricting battles,” represents the national Democratic Party organizations. 

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez was asked by reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast what help the party is giving to Nelson.

“There’s an army of lawyers down there now that are working on the recount,” Perez responded. “And and I’m glad they’re doing that.”

He also said the party has “people on our voter protection team right now chasing provisional ballots” and “whatever help anyone needs” in both Florida and Georgia where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has not conceded to Republican Brian Kemp.

“Voter suppression is a permanent staple in their playbook,” Perez said of Republicans, “and that’s a lesson that we have to learn.”

For his part, Rubio pointed the finger at election officials in heavily Democratic Broward County. He accused them of not following the legal requirements on timely reporting of results. 

“It has opened the door for lawyers to come here & try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate & Florida Cabinet,” Rubio tweeted of Nelson’s seat and the race for state agriculture commissioner. 

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about how the organization is involved in Florida’s Senate contest.  

Ron Klain, the lawyer who headed Al Gore’s recount team in the 2000 presidential race, said Nelson has two main advantages that Gore lacked.

After that contentious battle, Florida allowed voters to cast a provisional ballot if their eligibility is in dispute at a polling place. While the number of provisional ballots outstanding in Florida is unknown, if the total ends up being similar to the 25,000 cast in 2016, that’s a “huge potential gain” for Nelson, Klain said.

Nelson also doesn’t face an expiring clock as Gore did. The recount in the presidential race was stopped by the Supreme Court because of the December 12 deadline for electoral college votes to be submitted. There’s no similar time limit for a congressional recount, Klain notes.

In fact, the 2008 battle over Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s close election – which was handled by Elias – lasted eight months.

Contributing: John McCarthy, USA TODAY Network.

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