Palm Beach misses election recount deadline after machines stop working

Florida's already-farcical recount was dealt yet another blow Thursday when Palm Beach County failed to meet a 3 p.m. deadline, with the election supervisor blaming faulty equipment.

As a result of the county failing to make the deadline, the only one of Florida's 67, the numbers from the initial count, which were completed Saturday, will stand.

The announcement came soon after a federal judge ruled that 5,000 voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected because of signature issues be given an additional two days to fix the problem.

As the 3 p.m. deadline passed, Palm Beach Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said her county “got stuck with some mechanical issues.”

“It was a heroic effort and we just completed uploading our Saturday results, as was required by law,” Bucher said. “If we had three or four more hours, we might have made the time.”

A manual recount of 5,900 over-votes and under-votes was to begin at 4 p.m.

U.S. District Judge Mark Warner slammed state lawmakers and Palm Beach County officials for failing to anticipate election problems and said the state law on recounts appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided the presidency in 2000.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker also rejected a request to extend the deadline for all of the state’s counties to submit the results of a machine recount.

“We have been the laughingstock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” Walker said in court.

Palm Beach County has been plagued with problems from the start, and things took a turn for the worse on Tuesday after Bucher announced some of the outdated machines overheated and stopped working. She was forced to fly in mechanics to fix the issue - setting back recount efforts there.

“The reality is that we were very close two nights ago and then our machines went down,” she said. “It’s not for lack of human effort.”

On Wednesday, she said she was in “prayer mode” to get just one of four recounts in on time. The county’s machines went idle Wednesday night because Bucher said her technical manager had been on the scene for 42 hours straight and needed a break.

“You see that we’re working 24/7,” she said. “It’s an unusual request to make of your staff. You know, can you leave your kids behind? Can you stay here and I’ll feed you sub sandwiches and pizza? And you’ll work your brains out and we’re trying to meet a deadline that, really, reasonably shouldn’t be there.”

Bucher’s chaotic handling of the recount has resulted in some calling for her to step down. It’s a suggestion she has pushed back against.

“This is our democracy and I am here to count every vote and I will take the time that’s required and you can see I haven’t been home for three days,” she said. “I don’t think you’re going to find somebody else that has the dedication.”

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said earlier this week that if counties fail to meet the 3 p.m. deadline, they should continue counting so that final tallies can be included in official state results.

Florida law mandates that any election decided by 0.5 percent or less will trigger a recount.

The undecided races include the state’s Senate race, which pits incumbent Nelson, a Democrat, against outgoing Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and the gubernatorial race between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis.

Florida officially declared a recount Saturday and since then, the state’s 67 county election offices have been racing against time running their ballots through the tallying machine. Some counties only have a few thousand votes but the likes of Miami-Dade has more than 800,000 and Broward clocks in around 700,000.

Both Miami-Dade and Broward finished their machine recounts ahead of the deadline.

Meanwhile, a federal ruling Thursday morning threw another wrench into Florida’s recount efforts.

Judge Walker gave nearly 5,000 people who had issues with matching signatures an extra two days to correct their mistake. His ruling was part of a suit brought by Nelson's campaign and Democratic Party officials.

“This is a case about the precious and fundamental right to vote – the right preservative of all other rights. And it is about the right of a voter to have his or her own vote counted,” Walker wrote in his 34-page ruling.

He added, “There are dozens of reasons a signature mismatch may occur, even when the individual signing is in fact the voter. Disenfranchisement of approximately 5,000 voters based on signature mismatch is a substantial burden.”

Walker ruled that election supervisors must require all voters who were notified they have mismatches signatures correct the problem by 5 p.m. Saturday – which is the same day the results of the manual recount are due.

Employees bring out boxes of ballots before resuming a recount at the Palm Beach County Supervisor Of Elections office, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Employees bring out boxes of ballots before resuming a recount at the Palm Beach County Supervisor Of Elections office, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP)

Nelson’s lead attorney, Marc Elias, took to Twitter to praise the judge’s ruling.

“Big victory in our Florida signature mismatch lawsuit,” he tweeted. “Federal court extends deadline for voters to ‘cure’ their rejected ballots.

Gov. Rick Scott’s lawyers immediately appealed the ruling and said they were “confident we will prevail in the Eleventh Circuit.”

“Bill Nelson’s high-priced Washington lawyers went to court to argue against a process that they previously argued for,” Scott’s campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone wrote in a statement.

“It’s worth noting that Marc Elias is currently making THE EXACT OPPOSITE ARGUMENT in a similar case in Arizona. This also follows recent reports of the Democratic party encouraging and instructing to try to vote days after the legal deadline,” she added.