Editorial: Tone down the rhetoric, focus on counting votes

President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott should stop making unfounded claims of voter fraud.
Gov. Rick Scott addresses the media at a news conference late Thursday at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee. (Steve Bousquet  | Times)
Gov. Rick Scott addresses the media at a news conference late Thursday at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee. (Steve Bousquet | Times)
Published November 13 2018

The Florida recounts continue to move forward with few serious bumps, a credit to local election supervisors, judges and professional law enforcement who have provided a sense of calm, order and faith in government institutions. That stands in stark contrast to the overheated rhetoric from President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans spouting unfounded claims of voter fraud and conspiracy theories. Common sense and fairness require that every legitimate vote be counted, and state law provides a reasonable process for achieving that goal. That's what's happening now in a timely manner, and no one - particularly Scott, who continues to narrowly lead the Senate race - benefits from undermining public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.

All 67 counties have until 3 p.m. Thursday to conduct a machine recount of more than 8.2 million combined ballots in statewide races for U.S Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner. Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered the recount last week in accordance with Florida law, which requires a recount in razor-thin races. At least two of those races - for Senate and agriculture commissioner - could be close enough to force a manual recount, also prescribed under Florida law. Getting an accurate count may take time and effort, but it's in the overriding public interest, which is why Florida law provides several steps for getting there.

Trump has been unhelpful with his uninformed tweets, but Scott and Attorney General Bondi have been particularly disappointing. The termed-out Republican governor should know better than to accuse Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of trying to steal the election and asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate vote-counting in Democratic-rich Broward County. Bondi followed suit Sunday, criticizing the FDLE commissioner, Rick Swearingen, for refusing to investigate ‘‘reasonable suspicion’’ of criminal fraud. Never mind that neither the governor nor attorney general have provided specific evidence of criminal activity. Swearingen deserves credit for pushing back while remaining vigilant. The biggest irregularity to date was the acknowledgement Monday by the elections supervisor in hurricane-ravaged Bay County that he had accepted 11 ballots by email and 147 ballots by fax, even though there is no provision in Florida law that allows it. You don’t hear a peep from Republicans about that.

The election supervisors are busy and the environment is toxic enough without adding to the tensions with lawsuits and histrionic allegations that Democrats in South Florida are stealing the election. There are many reasons how we got here - record turnout, confusing ballot styles in some counties, varied practices for accepting mail-in ballots, mistakes by local supervisors, notably Broward County's Brenda Snipes. But there is a difference between apparent incompetence in Broward and outright corruption. Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter rejected Scott's request Monday to have the police impound voting machines and ballots when they were not in use, suggesting that extra deputies could provide adequate security. The judge also called for toning down the rhetoric. ‘‘These words mean things these days,’’ he said, ‘‘as everybody in the room knows.’’

Scott and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis continue to lead the statewide vote by narrow margins, and to his credit DeSantis has been more patient and appropriately restrained during the recount. Between 2000 and 2016, there were 4,687 statewide general elections and just 26 statewide recounts. Only three of those recounts reversed the initial result, according to the nonpartisan group FairVote. Counting every vote and then recounting the vote to ensure its accuracy is not redoing an election. It's the lawful way for getting it right. That must be the priority.