The recount in Florida only began this weekend, but time is already bleeding away for election officials racing to meet the state's Thursday deadline to complete their work.
As volunteers rush to complete the legally mandated review, Republican Gov. Rick Scott -- who leads in his race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson -- is again upping the stakes by suing to require law enforcement officials to seize ballots and tallying machines in Broward and Palm Beach counties during any break in the action.
The suit, which will be heard early on Monday, is part of a larger developing Republican strategy to cast the recount as an opportunity for fraudsters to hijack the election. On Friday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it was not investigating anything related to the election after the Florida Department of State said there were no allegations of criminal activity.
Scott and President Donald Trump have alleged, without evidence, that Democrats were conspiring to overturn the initial results. The President, alleging that "many ballots are missing or forged," tweeted Monday morning that "an honest vote count is no longer possible," and Scott accused Nelson of trying to "commit fraud to try to win this election."
"No ragtag group of liberal activists or lawyers from DC will be allowed to steal this election," Scott told Fox News on Sunday morning, shortly before he launched a trio of new lawsuits.
Florida Democrats reacted to Republican legal maneuvering by comparing Scott to a strongman striking out at the infrastructure of the vote.
"Rick Scott is doing his best to impersonate Latin American dictators who have overthrown Democracies in Venezuela and Cuba," the state party said in a statement. "The Governor is using his position to consolidate power by cutting at the very core of our Democracy."
Eugene Pettis, an attorney for controversial Broward elections chief Brenda Snipes, responded to the lawsuit by insisting she had already secured the facilities.
"Dr. Snipes has taken multiple measures to make sure that the election machines and ballots are in safe keeping," Pettis said.
Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi is also pushing for increased law enforcement involvement in the process.
"I fail to see how the Florida Department of Law Enforcement can legitimately refuse to investigate where there is reasonable suspicion that may lead to the discovery of criminal actions in the conduct of the 2018 election," she wrote in a Sunday letter to the department, which has pointed to the Department of State's insistence that there is nothing to investigate.
Bondi also addressed the Department of State, asking the Republican-appointed secretary to dig deeper and, "when you find any indication creating a reasonable suspicion of potential criminal activity," report it to the law enforcement agency.
Sarah Revell, the communications director for the Department of State, replied to Bondi's letter by effectively repeating what the agency has been saying for days.
"Department staff continues to observe the administration of the election in Broward County," Revell said. "Our staff has not seen any evidence of criminal activity in Broward County at this time."
Nelson's campaign is also gearing up for a legal challenge that could, perhaps more than any recount, lead to a fundamental shakeup of the race. Their lawsuit, which alleges that state law requiring signatures on mail-in ballots match those on record is unconstitutional, will have a hearing in federal court on Wednesday.
"If we are successful, that will add thousands of additional ballots that have so far gone uncounted and we believe have gone uncounted in violation of the US Constitution's guarantee of the right to vote and should be counted," Marc Elias, Nelson's top recount lawyer, told reporters on Saturday night, adding: "We have sought a statewide remedy because we believe that all voters -- whether they voted for Sen. Nelson or for Gov. Scott -- should not be disenfranchised because an election worker doesn't believe that their signature in two different places are closely resembling."
More suits are likely as the week ramps up ahead of the Thursday, 3 p.m. ET, recount deadline.
The top election official in Palm Beach County has already said it will be "impossible" for volunteers there to finish in time, an expectation she shares with both Republicans and Democrats on the scene to monitor the counting.
Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Michael Barnett told CNN that the county's inability to meet the deadline would be "good news for Republicans because our candidates are ahead."
"If they're not able to meet the deadline, the secretary of state of Florida may go ahead and certify the elections for our candidates," Barnett said. "In that case, you can bet your butt there will be lawsuits filed everywhere."
Revel confirmed Barnett's prediction later Sunday, telling CNN that if a county does not submit new figures by Thursday afternoon, "then the results on file at that time take their place."
Florida governor's race
Sunday also marked a return to the spotlight for Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is trailing Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis as the recount kicks into gear, but revoked his concession a day earlier and plans to aggressively pursue any possible avenue -- including new legal action -- if rumors of unduly uncounted ballots persist.
"I'm not here to ask for votes. I'm not here to campaign for votes. I'm not here to make a closing argument for what it means to become the next governor of the great state of Florida," Gillum told supporters in Fort Lauderdale late Sunday. "I'm simply here to say for the votes that have been cast, they ought to be counted. Every last single one of them."
Meanwhile, DeSantis has been very careful with his public posture in the wake of the recount. He has given only one statement, a taped video announcement directed to supporters, and has not held any events or press availabilities. Late Sunday, Scott's official schedule as governor was revised to include a note that he and DeSantis met. It was described officially as a "meeting with Gov-Elect DeSantis." and took place in Naples, where the two discussed the upcoming transition.
The war of words has escalated alongside increasingly testy exchanges between demonstrators, mostly in Broward County, where Snipes has come under withering criticism by Republicans across the state.
In Broward, the recount process began at 7 a.m. Sunday with officials recalibrating the machines that count the votes and performing a series of logic and accuracy tests. After verifying that all of the machines worked and passed the tests, which took longer than planned, they began the process of separating the first page of the ballot, which contains the relevant races that need to be recounted.
Officials in Broward County now plan to work without a break until the recount is complete -- or the deadline hits.
Outside of Snipes' office in Broward, a rowdy circus convened for a third straight day. A large "Trump 2020" banner hung from a crane attached to a truck over the protest zone, and "Bikers for Trump" signs mixed in with demonstrators in the colors of the four ticket-topping candidates.
Later in the afternoon, pro-DeSantis and Trump protesters pounced and shouted "fake news, fake ballots" and "only count legal votes" when reporters with cameras began to prep for remarks by Democratic state Sen. Perry Thurston. He and Democratic attorney Mitchell Berger spoke briefly as the crowd heckled them.
Inside, the machines had only begun to separate out the first page of the ballots.
- Rick Scott campaign to file multiple lawsuits
- Rick Scott's campaign announces three more election lawsuits
- Multiple lawsuits filed over brown recluse infestation
- Rick Scott claims rampant fraud in Florida
- Rick Scott's lawyer defends fraud claims
- Ex-Southwest employee files lawsuit
- Rick Scott teases a 'big announcement' amid Florida Senate speculation
- Rick Scott's lawyer 'fully expecting' recount in Florida Senate race
- Bill Nelson concedes Florida Senate race to Rick Scott
- Scott Sutton