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Close Elections: Fla. Judge Calls Out Fraud 'Rhetoric'; Georgia Nears Deadline

Workers load ballots into machines at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office during a recount on Sunday in Lauderhill, Fla.
Brynn Anderson
Workers load ballots into machines at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office during a recount on Sunday in Lauderhill, Fla.

Updated at 8:16 p.m. ET

As recounts are underway in Florida, a judge issued a warning Monday to "ramp down the rhetoric" as top Republicans — including President Trump — are casting doubt on the process.

The Associated Press reports that law enforcement and elections monitors have found no evidence of wrongdoing, but Republican lawyers and candidates, along with Trump, have claimed — without evidence — that there have been voter irregularities and fraud, in addition to improper behavior by local voting officials, that cast doubt on the integrity of the process.

The president tweeted early Monday morning that the elections should be called in favor of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, and of former GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis, in his bid for governor over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. "An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!" Trump wrote.

With Republicans leading in both the Senate and gubernatorial races, both contests are within the 0.5 percent margin that mandates a statewide recount. Many of the outstanding ballots could be from overseas military personnel, who can have their ballots counted as long as they arrive by Friday and were postmarked by Nov. 6, and it's hardly unusual for votes in many states to be counted after Election Day.

Broward Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter made the comments during an emergency hearing requested by Scott's attorneys, saying, "I am urging because of the highly public nature of this case to ramp down the rhetoric."

"If someone in this lawsuit or someone in this county has evidence of voter fraud or irregularities at the supervisor's office, they should report it to their local law enforcement officer," Tuter said. "If the lawyers are aware of it, they should swear out an affidavit, but everything the lawyers are saying out there in front of the elections office is being beamed all over the country. We need to be careful of what we say. Words mean things these days."

Republicans have cast doubt on the actions of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, questioning why the county has been so slow to count ballots. Snipes has pointed to high turnout and a lengthy ballot.

The AP reports that during the hearing, Scott's legal team claimed that Snipes was involved in "suspect and unlawful vote counting practices" against state law and that she could "destroy evidence of any errors, accidents or unlawful conduct." They also requested additional sheriff's deputies to be sent to her office to oversee the ballots and voting machines, including to be present to watch them when they weren't in use.

Snipes' lawyers rebutted that the Scott campaign's goal was to "undermine" faith in the elections and, ultimately, the outcome if it doesn't go in their favor. The Broward County office already has cameras, deputies and security guards protecting the ballots.

The judge ultimately ordered the parties to meet to find a compromise, and three deputies will be added to the Broward elections office.

Tuter isn't the only Florida official to register apparent frustration with some of the rhetoric coming from the White House. NPR's Miles Parks reports that Mark Early, the supervisor of elections in Leon County, said he didn't want to comment on politics but did stress that these were public servants who were working hard to ensure every vote is counted fairly.

"You've got dedicated patriots out there who are going without sleep to protect democracy, and if anyone is out there undermining that, especially when they have a role in making sure it's done well, that hurts our nation," Early said.

Georgia counties face deadline

In neighboring Georgia, the gubernatorial contest between Republican Brian Kemp, who narrowly leads, and Democrat Stacey Abrams is also drawing scrutiny.

According to WABE reporter Johnny Kauffman, Georgia's recently appointed Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden says the deadline for counties to certify election results is no later than Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET.

Kemp stepped down last week as secretary of state, anticipating not only a win but amid criticism that he was overseeing the close count. Throughout their race, Abrams has alleged that Kemp has been trying to suppress minority voters and new registrations.

Kauffman reports that in court filings, the state wrote that Crittenden should be able to certify the state election as soon as possible, and any delay would inhibit preparations for upcoming runoffs in December.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Abrams campaign is trying to find any remaining provisional ballots or other uncounted ballots to push Kemp's tally below 50 percent, forcing a runoff next month. As of 4:25 p.m. ET on Monday, Kemp had 50.26 percent of the vote.

Democrats are also pursuing legal action to force counties to revisit some ballots and try to delay the deadline set by the state until Wednesday. Kemp's campaign has called such efforts "frivolous" and says Abrams should concede.

Arizona Democrat wins

The Senate race in Arizona was finally settled Monday night, as the Associated Press projected Democrat Kyrsten Sinema the winner. After days of counting, Sinema had increased her lead to about 38,000 votes over Republican Martha McSally.

This is a Democratic pickup of the open seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Arizona had not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988.

But there's talk now of both Sinema and McSally going to the Senate, as an Arizona Republic op-ed called on Gov. Doug Ducey to appoint McSally to Arizona's other Senate seat. Former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl was appointed to fill the term of the late Sen. John McCain, but if Kyl steps down Ducey would need to name another Republican to replace him.

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Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.