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Bill Nelson sues for fax, email voting records from Bay County

The Bay County Supervisor of Elections has said he accepted some ballots by fax and email.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), left, looks on as Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) speaks at news conference about the Florida Senate election vote recount, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 13, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times) XNYT148
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), left, looks on as Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) speaks at news conference about the Florida Senate election vote recount, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 13, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times) XNYT148
Published Nov. 14, 2018|Updated Nov. 14, 2018

Democrat Bill Nelson has filed a recount-related lawsuit. Again.

The incumbent candidate for U.S. Senate, who has filed two other lawsuits in the past week, is suing Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen for copies of vote-by-mail ballots received via e-mail or fax.
Andersen allegedly failed to comply with a records request sent Monday, according to a complaint filed Wednesday.

The supervisor told the Times/Herald on Monday that 11 ballots were accepted by email and 147 ballots were domestically faxed in, though state statute does not allow emailed ballots, and faxing in ballots is only permitted for military and voters overseas.

Andersen was not aware that a lawsuit had been filed until he received a call from a reporter Thursday inquiring about the filing.

A guide to all the lawsuits

What happens if recount deadline can't be met?

After learning of the lawsuit from the Times/Herald, he angrily questioned the lawyers' decision to file a complaint, saying "that man ought to be ashamed of himself too."

"I get a call from a reporter about a lawsuit that I know nothing of, so who's playing games?" he said.

Andersen responded to the requests for public records, and said he would "respond in a timely manner." He added that the office is preoccupied, with some staff still "putting their lives back together" after Hurricane Michael.

"Herein lies why Florida is always in trouble," he said. "Candidates refuse to wait to finish the darn election before they starting forming opinions and make accusations."

Republican candidate Gov. Rick Scott won roughly 74 percent of the vote in Bay County.

Andersen defended his decision, noting the Bay County voters who were displaced by the storm that rocked the heavily Republican coastal county one month ago.

"You did not go through what we went through," he told the Times/Herald. "If some are unhappy we did so well up here, I don't know what to tell them. We sure had an opportunity to not do well, I can tell you that much."

Scott issued an executive order filed Oct. 18 that allowed elections supervisors in eight counties affected by the hurricane to extend early voting days and designate more early voting locations. But it did not allow for votes to be returned by email or fax to the 225,000 voters in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty and Washington Counties.

"Voting by fax or email is not an option under the Executive Order," the Florida Department of State wrote in an October news release. "In the hardest hit areas, communication via phone, fax and email remains challenging and would be an unreliable method for returning ballots."

Andersen said Tuesday night that he still intends to include emailed and faxed ballots in his count to the state, though the decision is up to the county canvassing board. The board, which includes him, a judge and the county commission chair, meets Thursday at 4 p.m.

Nelson's most recent complaint marks the 12th major recount-related lawsuit the state has seen since the midterm election.

Nelson and the Democratic Executive Committee have already sued Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner twice — once asking for an immediate injunction to force the state to count all mail-in and provisional ballots that are deemed to have a signature mismatch, and the other to extend the deadlines for machine and manual recounts so that all 67 counties in the state can finish them on time.

The first lawsuit wants a judge to declare "that all voters who submit a (vote-by-mail) or provisional ballot, and whose ballots are subsequently determined to involve a signature mismatch, be counted as valid votes."

That challenges state law, which requires officials to reject signatures that don't match the ones on file.

The other lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday, urges U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee to extend the deadlines for an unspecified period of time. Under state law, the machine recounts must be completed by 3 p.m. Thursday and the manual recounts must be completed by noon Sunday.

Walker scheduled a status conference on the suit for 9 a.m. Thursday.

Miami Herald staff reporters Jimena Tavel and Jay Weaver and Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff reporter Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.


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