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Federal judge rejects Bill Nelson’s request to give counties more time to finish recounts

Palm Beach County’s election supervisor has already warned that the county will not be able to finish on time.

Democrats suffered two major defeats on Thursday as a judge refused to extend vote-counting deadlines in the U.S. Senate race that's headed for a hand recount and rejected their request to obtain names of every voter whose mail ballot had a signature mismatch.

In unusually strong language, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee rejected a request by Sen. Bill Nelson's campaign to give counties more time to complete machine recounts that were due at 3 p.m. Thursday.

"There is a complete dearth of evidence before this court concerning the status, progress or expected completion of the ordered recounts in Palm Beach County," Walker wrote.

Earlier on Thursday, Walker took several groups to task, including the Florida Legislature and the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, Susan Bucher, for issues that the judge said led to delayed counts.

"We have been the laughing stock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this," Walker said.

He also criticized the notion that he was asked to extend recount deadlines with no specific deadline. "You literally have blindfolded me, shoved me in a room, turned all the lights out and said, 'Judge, you're supposed to fashion a remedy," Walker said in a hearing.

Walker's impatience showed the obvious limitations of Nelson's strategy, which involves filing multiple lawsuits on various election-related issues in hopes of expanding the potential pool of votes or the time in which to count votes.

In a separate case, Walker ordered a three-day period ending at 5 p.m. Saturday, for voters whose mail or provisional ballots were rejected because of signature mismatches but who may not know of the defect or who learned of it a "cure" deadline of 5 p.m. on Nov. 5, the day before election day.

But he denied an emergency motion filed by Nelson and Democrats, who asked the judge to order Secretary of State Ken Detzner to make available the names of all affected voters.

Detzner's elections division said it didn't have the information, but Walker could have ordered the state to seek it from all 67 counties. The judge refused to do so after a brief hearing in Tallahassee Thursday afternoon, during which he pointedly criticized Democratic lawyers for trying to use him to get the names so Nelson's camp could contact those voters.

"I am not going to be used by either party to obtain information to reach out and target individual voters based on their party affiliation,' Walker said in open court. "That's just the kind of gamesmanship that will undermine the electoral process. I will have no part of it."

"I think it will be inappropriate for the court to be providing information to political parties," Walker said.