That appeared to have been the sentiment motivating President Trump on Monday morning. The game isn’t over in Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial races. They are, to continue the above analogy, in about their sixth overtimes. But Trump clearly has favorites, pushing for Gov. Rick Scott (R) to be elected to the Senate and for Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) to replace Scott in the statehouse. He wants the pair to emerge victorious when all the votes are counted — or, as it turns out, before all the votes are counted.
“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere,” Trump tweeted on Monday morning, “and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”
Trump’s been beating this drum for days, for the obvious reason that, as votes are counted, Scott’s margin over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has narrowed. Scott leads by more than 12,000 votes, almost certainly enough to survive the recount that’s getting underway in the state, but that consistent narrowing has Trump — and Scott and other Republicans — claiming that something untoward is happening in the counting.
“Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day, now they ‘found' many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes,” Trump tweeted on Friday. “’The Broward Effect.' How come they never find Republican votes?”
Well, they do. Late totals on Tuesday night had Scott with about 4.03 million votes. He now has nearly 4.1 million, an increase of about 70,000 votes. The problem is that more of the votes are coming in in favor of Nelson than Scott, in part because many of them are coming from Broward County, which Nelson is winning with a nearly 40-point margin.
Trump (and Scott, et al.) have been implying that Broward County’s history of slow and problematic vote tallying is evidence that there’s fraud underway. It’s important to note that the Florida secretary of state and law enforcement officials in the state have found no evidence of any illegal activity. Broward’s count has been a slog, and its elections administrator has not been as transparent as she should be about vote totals, but there’s no indication that the votes being counted there are anything but legitimate votes from legitimate voters.
Consider how the vote last week compares with 2016.
(Bubbles on the chart above are scaled to the number of votes returned in 2018.)
Broward County overwhelmingly supports Nelson — but it overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton two years ago. Most counties in Florida have been more supportive of Nelson than they were of Clinton; on average, the vote in each county shifted a little over 3 percentage points to Nelson, relative to the margin for Clinton. In Broward County, the shift was a little less than that average. In other words, Nelson is outperforming Clinton by a narrower margin than in most counties in the state.
If you’re forging ballots to throw an election, as Trump has alleged, that’s a weird way to do it. It’s also weird, if that allegation were true, that Broward’s vote total makes up a smaller percentage of the state total than it did in 2016. Two years ago, votes from Broward County made up about 8.8 percent of the votes in the state. In 2018, they make up 8.3 percent of the total votes that have been counted.
The change in Broward hasn’t been as dramatic as in Miami-Dade County, which voted more heavily Republican than in 2016 and which made up much less of the state vote. (Those things are probably related: Fewer Democratic votes in the county drove the margin to the right and the percent of the vote downward.) But Broward is not a county where there has been a weird surge in votes favoring the Democrats, relative to 2016.
Trump’s call to stop counting and, somehow, to revert to election night totals is bizarre and impractical for a slew of reasons. But it also means disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters deliberately. He doesn’t like that the post-Election Day vote counting has favored Nelson, but reverting to Election Day — which, again, you can’t just do! — would mean throwing into the garbage those 67,000 votes noted above. It would also mean that voters overseas, who have until Nov. 16 for their ballots to arrive in the state, would see their votes ignored.
Who are those voters? Among others, they are members of the military. (About a quarter of those received on Election Day were from members of the military.) As of Sunday, there were still nearly 20,000 ballots that had been mailed to Florida voters out of the country that could still be returned, of which, more than 4 in 10 were sent to Democrats. A quarter were sent to Republicans. Those votes would get tossed.
Again, though, this can’t happen, any more than you can toss out the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl and start planning your victory parade.
Scott remains likely to win the Senate seat in Florida, even after the recount. His narrow lead will likely hold up; recounts rarely find huge numbers of miscounted ballots. If anything, Scott’s possible victory is a function of uncounted support that favors him. An apparent design flaw on ballots in Broward County meant far fewer votes in the Senate race than in other statewide contests, to Nelson’s detriment. Broad disenfranchisement of ex-felons in the state likely could have made up the difference.
Trump wants to go back to the vote counts at the end of election night for the simple and obvious reason that he wants Scott to win. The president is raising unfounded accusations of fraud to shift a result to his favor. We’ve seen this before: Two years ago, he leveled a nonsensical allegation of rampant fraud in California that he used to explain how badly he lost the popular vote. Then, too, ending the counting on election night would have meant that the results were more favorable to him; it was only as votes were tallied in California over the next few weeks that his popular vote loss got so dramatically large.
Scott will likely win anyway, just as Trump did. To bolster that result, Trump is undercutting confidence in the electoral system. Just as he did in 2016.