Given the size of Rick Scott’s lead in the race for a United States Senate seat from Florida and Ron DeSantis’s lead in the race to be the state’s governor, most election experts agree there’s little chance that even the most exquisitely careful recount would deny these two Republicans victory.
Yet both men are not only acting as if it’s 2000 all over again, when control of the White House hinged on a few hundred votes in Florida, they are also fanning conspiratorial flames with claims of outrageous fraud, seconded by President Trump.
The flimsiness of their charges can be measured by the response they’ve gotten not from their political adversaries but from some of their allies.
Mr. Scott, who as governor is overseeing his election to become senator, asked his Department of Law Enforcement to investigate this supposedly rampant fraud in Democratic-controlled Broward County. No real accusations to investigate, he was told. At a court hearing at which Republicans asked him to impound voting machines in Broward County, a county judge who had been appointed by a Republican governor, Jeb Bush, told everyone to calm down.
“We need to be careful what we say,” the judge, Jack Tuter, said. “These words mean things these days, as everybody in the room knows.”
The meaning of those words is that some Republican leaders want Americans to think that the only way they can be denied power is by chicanery.
Not all Republicans have gone down this path. As the lead in a Senate race in Arizona swung back and forth over a few thousand votes, the president raised the specter of fraud. But candidates and officials in the Republican-controlled state stayed calm. And, when the result was clear, but some votes remained to be counted, the Republican candidate, Martha McSally, was a model of decency and dignity, congratulating her Democratic opponent, Kyrsten Sinema, on her victory.
In Florida, no one has offered evidence of widespread election fraud, and the recount is mandated by law and was ordered by the Florida secretary of state. Yet Mr. Scott said of Bill Nelson, the three-term Democratic senator he’s hoping to unseat, “Senator Nelson is clearly trying to commit fraud to try to win this election.”
The counting itself, and not vote-rigging, seems to be the true catalyst of Mr. Scott’s panic and at least five separate lawsuits: As of Sunday, his lead over Mr. Nelson had withered significantly.
Advocacy groups have also gone to court, seeking to force Mr. Scott’s recusal from any role in election oversight. This is a sensible move. His alarmist stance, as opposed to the position of Mr. Nelson and the Democratic candidate for governor, Andrew Gillum, that all votes be counted, makes that clear.
Sowing doubt in the integrity of the recount is part of a Republican strategy that involves lawyers and operatives on the ground, much like what happened in the 2000 election, and a preview of what’s likely to happen leading up to the 2020 election.
We caught glimpses of this playbook — of dreaming up fraud where none exists — when Mr. Trump prejudged the outcome of the 2016 campaign, by calling the election “rigged,” refusing to say if he’d accept a loss to his rival, and deputizing his supporters to police polling places in Democratic strongholds, like Philadelphia. Mr. Trump tried to keep this alive with his short-lived, fruitless commission to root out election fraud. (The vice chairman of that sham commission, Kris Kobach, just lost his race for governor in deep-red Kansas.)
For all the fact-free doomsaying about rigged elections, democracy did remarkably well last week. For that we do have evidence: National turnout was the highest ever for midterm contests in the modern era, states made the franchise more accessible for millions and gerrymandering took a hit at the ballot box.
May those important victories, and not baseless claims that undermine the legitimacy of American democracy, be the guiding lights of a recount process that’s as lawful as it is critical to free and fair elections.
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