Florida Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott on Sunday directly accused his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, of being a "sore loser" who is "clearly trying to commit fraud to win this election," as recounts commenced in the state's tight gubernatorial and Senate contests.
Speaking to "Fox News Sunday," Scott's comments marked a significant escalation of his rhetoric against Nelson, just days after he filed two bombshell lawsuits against election officials in two Democratic strongholds in Florida and flagged them for engaging in potentially "rampant fraud."
In their lawsuit against Broward County, Scott and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) allege that officials there are hiding critical information about the number of votes cast and counted.
At an emergency court hearing on Friday, state Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ruled there has “been a violation of the Florida Constitution,” as well as the state’s public records act, by Broward officials who had not turned over requested records.
"We have very specific laws in the state to try to prevent fraud," Scott, the incumbent Florida governor, told host Chris Wallace. "We had to go to court to force the supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County and Broward County to comply with the law, which is there to prevent fraud."
Scott's emergency complaint specifically accused Brenda Snipes, the Broward County supervisor of elections who has been the center of numerous accusations of incompetence and mishandling of ballots in the past several years, of being "unwilling to disclose records revealing how many electors voted, how many ballots have been canvassed, and how many ballots remain to be canvassed," and charges that the uncertainty "raises substantial concerns about the validity of the election process."
Scott added: "They were not letting party officials review, when they were reviewing ballots. They didn’t report on time. ... We still don’t understand how they went in these two counties and dramatically increased – another 93,000 votes were cast, or somehow they came up with 93,000 votes after election night."
Scott confirmed to Wallace that state law enforcement is looking into the matter.
"I’ve asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to go in and do an investigation to find out what happened here," Scott said. "But we clearly know, the judges have already said, they clearly violated the law."
On Friday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced that it was not investigating Florida election officials because it had not found credible allegations of fraud.
"Sen. Nelson is clearly trying to commit fraud to win this election, that’s all this is," Scott told Wallace. Asked to elaborate on his accusation, Scott replied, "Well, it's his team."
He explained: "His lawyers said that a noncitizen should vote, that’s one. Two, he’s gone to trial and said that fraudulent ballots should be counted, ballots have already been thrown out because they were not done properly. He said those should be counted."
"Sen. Nelson is clearly trying to commit fraud to win this election."
Lawyers for Nelson and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Friday had objected to the rejection of a provisional ballot cast by a noncitizen, according to a transcript obtained by Fox News.
The incident occurred during a canvassing meeting in Palm Beach County, where provisional ballots were being examined. According to the draft transcript of the meeting, taken by a court reporter hired by the Florida Republican Party, a provisional ballot was ordered excluded from the count, as it came from a non-U.S. citizen.
The Nelson campaign distanced itself from the objections, which it said that it had not authorized.
“The lawyer who was present was not someone we had authorized to make such an objection. Noncitizens cannot vote in U.S. elections," Marc Elias, recount attorney for the Nelson campaign, said in a statement. The Gillum campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
A Nelson spokesperson tersely dismissed Scott's legal efforts on Thursday: “The goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately. Rick Scott’s action appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation.”
And Nelson and Florida Democrats filed their own lawsuit this weekend, asserting that the state's process for rejecting provisional and mail-in ballots "based on signature mismatch is done without any consistent standard or relevant expertise."
Snipes, the Broward County election superviser who has held her office since 2003, is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, Scott's administration said it was monitoring her office after a judge ruled in May the county broke federal law by destroying ballots in Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's 2016 Democratic primary race against Tim Canova, Politico reported.
Snipes claimed the issue had been "blown out of proportion."
In August, a judge sided with the Florida GOP in its challenge of how the county handled absentee ballots. Republicans claimed Snipes' office was opening ballots in private, preventing people from challenging if they were properly cast, according to Politico.
And then in 2016, Broward County violated the law when it posted early voting results online before polls even closed, the Miami Herald reported.
The error was made by a young employee of an outside company hired by the county to tally the election results and a lawsuit against Snipes' office over the incident was "unsuccessful," according to the Miami Herald. Snipes also won a lawsuit that same year after being challenged for leaving off an amendment regarding medical marijuana on some mail-in ballots.
In 2004, her office had to scramble to send out new absentee ballots after it said some 58,000 voters did not receive them despite requesting them, the Sun-Sentinel reported at the time.
Broward is not the only county in Scott's legal crosshairs. In a parallel suit against Palm Beach County, Scott and the NRSC charge that the election supervisor there illegally used her own judgment to determine voter intent when reviewing damaged or incorrectly filled-out absentee ballots, while refusing to allow impartial witnesses to monitor the process.
Scott's complaint against Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher alleges first that officials there illegally refused to allow Republicans, or any witnesses, to monitor the county's handling of damaged absentee ballots.
At the end of the process, Scott said he is confident he will prevail.
"I haven’t decided where I’m going to be this week," Scott said, when asked whether he would attend a planned GOP photo-op for incoming senators. "We are going to watch this machine recount process, so I figure that out in the next few days. I look forward to going to D.C. and being the Florida senator."
Fox News' Adam Shaw, Kaitlyn Schallhorn, and Alex Pappas contributed to this report.