Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott, along with the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has filed an appeal of a federal judge’s decision to give voters in Florida until Saturday to correct issues with their mail-in and provisional ballots.
A federal judge on Thursday ruled that mail-in and provisional ballots that had been rejected because of signature issues will have two more days to resolve the problems. This would give them a chance to have their votes included in the totals for this year’s elections.
Because U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s order allowed voters extra time, Republicans thought this was unfair. The judge, however, explained his reasoning:
“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,” Judge Walker wrote in his decision. “The answer is simple. It does not.”
Walker’s order was issued in response to a lawsuit filed last week by Scott’s opponent Sen. Bill Nelson and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee challenging the state’s signature-matching statute.
Scott’s attorneys filed an appeal Thursday morning in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta to challenge that ruling.
When voters submit provisional or mail-in ballots in Florida, election officials are required to make a determination that the signature on the ballot is an exact match with the signature that appears in the individual’s voter file. If the signatures don’t match, they must deem the ballot illegal and it is not counted.
In his ruling, Walker, appeared to agree with Nelson’s attorneys who had asserted that Florida’s current process for evaluating provisional and mail-in ballots with mismatched signatures lacked uniform standards. As a result, they said, it gave Florida voters only an “illusory process to cure” the issues.
“We are immediately appealing this baseless decision and we are confident we will prevail in the Eleventh Circuit,” Lauren Schenone, the press secretary for Scott’s campaign, said in a statement.
Scott’s appeal came just a few hours before local election officials in Florida were coming up against the 3 pm deadline to submit the results of machine recounts. Florida had three close statewide races that required recounts: the races for Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner.
Candidates in each of those races were separated by less than 0.5 points after the initial voting was tabulated. Election results were submitted to state election officials on Saturday, forcing machine recounts of all three races. This also led to a series of legal challenges from both Republicans and Democrats, which are still continuing.
The Senate and agriculture commissioner races will probably require hand recounts after the machine recount results are submitted on Thursday. A hand recount is required under Florida law if two candidates are separated by 0.25 percentage points or less.
The lawsuit over the signature matching requirement is only one of several filed by Senator Nelson and Democratic groups over the past few days. They had also filed lawsuits asking the court to delay the deadlines for completing recounts, and they have challenged the state’s standards for evaluating voter intent on unconventionally marked ballots. Scott has also filed other lawsuits, and has charged voter fraud.
The outcome of Scott’s appeal could be significant since at last count his lead over Nelson was approximately 12,000 votes out of over 8 million that were cast.