As of this writing, the Senate races in Florida and Arizona are too close to call. Both states’ election officials are attempting to count all the votes, which is what one does in a democracy. Senators from the respective states are weighing in, one bolstering confidence in the election process and the other irresponsibly spreading rumors and undermining confidence in democratic elections in a manner that would impress Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In Arizona, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called out President Trump and others in his party for intimating that election officials were “stealing” the election from Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) He tweeted:
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey also kept his cool. (“We often hear the phrase: Every vote matters. And the [Arizona Senate] race is proof. So let’s get this right. All legally cast votes MUST be counted. Lawful votes in EVERY county in the state MUST be counted. … Let’s follow the law, count the votes, prevent any cheating, and heed the will of the voters.”)
This is nothing out of the ordinary for Arizona. The Associated Press reports, “Every election, it takes weeks for Arizona to count its ballots. But as the Democrat in the tight U.S. Senate race there jumped into the lead in the latest results some Republicans have raised baseless allegations of fraud.” The report continues:
State law requires the envelope [on mail-in ballots] to be sealed and signed, and for elections officials to match each signature to the one on file with the voter’s registration before even opening the envelope. In this election, that’s about 1.7 million individual signatures that had to be confirmed, one-by-one. A total of about 2.3 million votes were cast in Arizona.
The problem comes in the final days when the ballots flood election offices. Voters can also drop off sealed mail ballots on Election Day, adding to the pile. Those ballots can’t be counted that day because the elections office is busy setting up and administering in-person voting.
Arizona’s Republican secretary of state put out a statement admonishing conspiracy-mongers. “Arizona takes elections seriously – from the poll workers to the county elections officials, and the Secretary of State’s office. Everybody is working diligently to tabulate all of the election results in a manner that Arizonans can be proud of and, most importantly, trust the results.” That would not include Trump, it seems. Thankfully, conscientious state officials, not the White House, will do the vote counting.
That didn’t stop national Republicans from engaging in shameful conduct, questioning the vote counting based on not a shred of evidence of wrongdoing. Former aide to the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) Mark Salter admonished the effort via tweet:
Meanwhile, in Florida, Republican fear-mongering went into overdrive. There, Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is also the Senate candidate in a too-close-to-call race, is crying foul, alleging that the election operation he has had eight years as governor to improve is out to steal the election for his opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
In his frantic remarks Thursday, Scott decried the vote-counting process, His sweaty appearance and hysterical verbiage inadvertently gave viewers the impression he was less than confident about how the vote-counting will go. (If actual wrongdoing occurred, Scott, as governor, could fire state employees; he has not done that, lacking any factual basis for his charges.)
Few observers would say that Broward County election officials have performed flawlessly over the years. But there is zero evidence of efforts to suppress or change votes. (Hey, this isn’t Georgia.)
Naturally, Trump wasn’t bothered by lack of evidence of deliberate wrongdoing. Instead, as is his habit, he fanned the conspiratorial talk. Florida law enforcement, however, was having none of it. CNN reported:
Gretl Plessinger, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesperson, told CNN that the department reached out to the Florida Department of State to offer their assistance with any investigation involving the collection and tabulation of votes in the 2018 election.
On Friday morning, the Department of State informed the law enforcement agency that they have received “no allegation of criminal activity” thus far as it relates to the election. The Florida secretary of state is Ken Detzner, a Republican appointed by Scott.
Plessinger went on to say that because of the message from the Department of State, her agency is not actively investigating anything related to the election, including the officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
That did not stop Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) from piling on. Unlike his colleague Flake, Rubio has no qualms about undermining the credibility of an election and stirring up the Trump cult. Rubio was perfectly willing to parrot Trump’s groundless accusations and add his own baseless allegations of wrongdoing. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), in an op-ed in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, decried Republicans’ outbursts:
Since Election Day, Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Rick Scott have spouted conspiracy theories, requested law enforcement investigations to harass elections officials, and filed lawsuits to cloud the vote counting process in suspicion. These are acts of desperation and show that Republicans are afraid of what will happen if every Florida vote is counted.
Marco Rubio should remember that he is our U.S. Senator and is supposed to be representing every Floridian. His post-election tweets were irresponsible and are intended to slowly erode confidence in the results. He baselessly claimed that Democrats “are here to change the results of election,” and that lawyers will “try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate and Florida Cabinet.”
Rubio pulled back a bit Friday, saying he just wanted all the legal ballots counted. However, his fundraising emails tell a different story. In one fundraising email blast on Saturday, he declared, “Martha McSally is in a knockout Senate battle with Kyrsten Sinema, and 350,000 votes still need to be counted. Democrats will do whatever it takes to change the results of this election and claim their ‘blue wave’. . . . The Democrats have an army of attorneys prepared to do whatever it takes to overturn Martha’s victory and send Sinema to do their dirty work in the Senate.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Nevertheless, as votes are counted — properly counted — Sinema’s lead increases. When Sinema gets to the Senate, as seems likely, she should pull Rubio aside and ask why he tried to raise money off deceitful smears that undermine faith in our democracy. What’s he got against free and fair elections?
Illiberal regimes such as Russia over the years have been doing their best to create uncertainty in Western democracies (both in the United States and Europe) about the legitimacy and reliability of elections. However, if Trump, Scott and Rubio are going to undermine the validity of U.S. elections, Putin need not bother to exert himself. (In Soviet days they used to call gullible helpmates who harmed their own democracies “useful idiots.”)
Let’s hope the GOP’s post-2018 election antics aren’t a warmup for 2020. Republicans need to understand that a fundamental tenet of democracy is willingness to accept the results of elections, no matter how close. With the exception of Flake and Ducey, Republicans conduct is despicable and should be condemned by democratic (small “d”) patriots.