Rep. Matt Caldwell, Republican candidate for commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, became the latest statewide candidate Friday afternoon to file a lawsuit over the counting of votes in the 2018 midterm elections.
Caldwell's lawsuit, filed in Broward County, asks the court to determine if Brenda Snipes, the Broward County supervisor of elections, "illegally included ballots after polls closed" Nov. 6. His campaign also filed a public records request for vote counts and emails among Snipes, her team and any third parties regarding ballot counting.
"Brenda Snipes' office has a record of gross incompetence," said campaign spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez in a statement. "Given the length of time it has taken her office to count votes and the history of Snipes' past violations, we have concerns the law is not being followed."
As of Friday afternoon, Caldwell trailed his Democratic opponent, Broward County attorney Nicole "Nikki" Fried by a slim 2,973 votes.
His suit joins at least three other lawsuits filed by statewide candidates whose results on Election Day are likely to face recounts given their slim margins. Half of them focus on the long-beleagured Broward County office, where delays in reporting vote tallies — and concerns about the undervote in the U.S. Senate race — have brought heavy criticism and protesters.
Scott files 2 lawsuits
Gov. Rick Scott, who declared victory in his razor-thin race for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, filed two lawsuits Thursday night against Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, alleging they violated the law while counting ballots.
In Broward, Scott, in his capacity as a Senate candidate, has accused Snipes of failing to let his campaign inspect absentee and other ballots this week, under public records laws, as the office continues to count votes. The suit also alleges Snipes has unlawfully refused to release more information about votes tallied. "The lack of transparency raises substantial concerns about the validity of the election process," according to the complaint filed late Thursday.
In a late-night press conference, Scott had also called for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate her office, though an agency spokeswoman said Friday there was no active investigation.
In Palm Beach County, Scott's campaign has also alleged Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher failed to allow his campaign to inspect potentially damaged absentee ballots mailed in by overseas military members and others, and that her office violated the law by determining if those mail-in votes are valid, rather than the county's canvassing board.
Emergency court hearings were being held Friday in both counties. Scott currently holds a lead of 0.18 percent over Nelson, well within the 0.25 percent margin that would trigger both machine and manual recounts come Saturday.
In Broward, Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ordered Snipes to turn over to Scott's campaign an accounting of how many ballots were cast in the county, broken down by category, by 7 p.m. Friday.
Nelson sues Detzner’s office
Nelson, for his part, has sued Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to force the state to count all provisional and mail-in ballots deemed to have a signature mismatch. He and the Democratic Executive Committee, listed as a plaintiff, are challenging a Florida law that requires county election officials to check voters' signatures on provisional and mail-in ballots and reject those that don't match records on file.
Nelson lawyer Marc Elias said the law leads to legitimate ballots being disqualified by tasking untrained local election workers with reviewing signatures, and Scott has said he will fight Nelson's challenge in court.
"With today's filing, their desperation has driven them to ask the federal courts to allow voter fraud," Scott campaign manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman said.
A hearing is being held Friday in Tallahassee.
Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Contorno and Miami Herald reporter Jay Weaver contributed to this report.