Nelson lawsuit seeks to count ballots received after Election Day

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Lawyers for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday filed a federal lawsuit that claims Florida is disenfranchising voters by not counting mail-in ballots it received after Election Day.

The lawsuit comes after 266 absentee ballots from the post office’s Opa-locka sorting facility arrived at Miami-Dade’s election office on Sunday. State law requires all mail ballots to be received when the polls close – which was 7 p.m. on November 6.

Nelson is locked in a fierce recount battle with Gov. Rick Scott.

Attorneys representing Scott and Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes also were in court Monday.

Scott, whose lead has narrowed over Nelson’s, filed lawsuits Sunday against local election officials, asking the judge to order police to impound voting machines and ballots when they are not in use. Specifically, his campaign filed lawsuits against Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher, the election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The emergency motions came after Scott claimed “unethical liberals” were trying to steal the election after late-developing returns narrowed his margins over Nelson and triggered a statewide recount.

On Monday, Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter said he saw no wrongdoing in the vote-counting and denied Scott’s request to seize voting machines. Tuter, who asked both sides to “ramp down the rhetoric,” said there is a need to reassure citizens that the integrity of the Florida recount is being protected. The judge did, however, agree to beef up security, including adding three more law enforcement officers to police recount efforts.

Juan Penalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, accused Scott of "using his position to consolidate power by cutting at the very core of our democracy."

Florida law mandates that any election decided by 0.5 percent or less will trigger a recount. Three races in the Sunshine State fit the bill – with two being in the national spotlight.

In the Senate race – perhaps the most contentious – Scott, the Republican challenger, declared victory Tuesday night. But Nelson, the Democratic incumbent who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000, never conceded the race. According to the Florida Division of Elections’ website, total votes show Scott with 50.07 percent of the ballots counted to Nelson’s 49.92 percent.

Scott has fired back multiple times, accusing election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties of “rampant fraud” and has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.

On Monday, Scott ramped up the rhetoric and called Nelson a “sore loser.”

“He’s just here to steal this election,” he told Fox & Friends.

He added, “What Bill Nelson needs to do now is do what he would ask me to do if I had lost the election… ‘Look, the election happened, let’s go forward.’ But he’s not. He’s just a sore loser, trying to steal an election.”

Scott campaign spokesman Chris Hartline accused Nelson’s attorney Marc Elias, a partner at Perkins Cole, of trying to raise money and stay relevant by demanding a recount.

“Maybe business was slow for Perkins Cole,” Hartline said in an email Monday. “Maybe the liberal base needed something to rally behind so fundraisers could get paid. Or maybe Marc Elias’ name just hadn’t been in the newspaper in a while.”

Perkins Cole represented former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and hired Fusion GPS to investigate Trump in 2016.

Meanwhile, in the governor’s race, unofficial results show Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis leading Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points.

Gillum riled up hundreds of his supporters at a “Count Every Vote” event Sunday night at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale.

“I am not here to ask for votes,” he told those in attendance. “I am simply here to say that for the votes that have been cast, they ought to be counted. Every last one of them. What a notion.”

Outside the event, a handful of protesters shouted “Gillum lost” on bullhorns and called out Snipes, who has been a frequent target of the Republican Party for her handling of the recount. On Monday afternoon, former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush joined other Republicans in calling for her removal.

"There is no question that Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes failed to comply with Florida law on multiple counts, undermining Floridians’ confidence in our electoral process," Bush said. "Supervisor Snipes should be removed from her office following the recounts."

Democratic Attorney Mitchell Berger pushed back on the claims during an interview with Fox News.

“Brenda Snipes might be under-personed and might have, you know, had too much thrust upon her suddenly,” Berger said Monday. “I don’t think there is anyone who thinks she is dishonest or lacks integrity.”

Once the recounts are completed, if the differences in any of the races are 0.25 percentage points or below, a hand recount will be ordered.

Outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office on Monday, Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., blasted Republicans who claimed election fraud.

“What we saw over the weekend, starting Thursday with the governor’s press conference and continuing right into the weekend with statement from the governor, Sen. Rubio and President Trump, is an attempt to undermine people’s faith in what’s happening in Florida, and, ultimately, undermine people’s faith in our democracy.”

Fox News’ Gregg Re and Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report.