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Rick Scott’s zombie claim about voter fraud in 2018

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). (Tom Williams/AFP/Getty Images)

“You have to remember what I went through in my 2018 election, where they completely violated the law. They found 95,000 votes after election night.”

— Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), responding to a question from CNN reporter Manu Raju, Jan. 21, 2021

“In my race in 2018, they found 95,000 ballots after election night. That’s not inconsistent — that’s inconsistent with the law. But we have activist judges that allow these things to happen.”

— Scott, in an interview on “Spicer & Co.” on Newsmax TV, Nov. 2, 2020

Scott won his Senate race in 2018, but the election took days to resolve because of delays in counting mail ballots from some Democratic areas in Florida.

Vote totals coming in after election night kept chipping away at Scott’s lead against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Scott prevailed, but it was a squeaker. His margin of victory was approximately 10,000 votes of 8.3 million cast, or slightly more than 0.1 percentage point, triggering a recount.

While the outcome of the race was still uncertain and Nelson was surging in the vote count, Scott gave a televised statement in November 2018 blasting Democratic election officials and alleging “there may be rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward counties.”

Scott, who was then Florida’s governor, directed state authorities to investigate election officials in both counties. His campaign sued. He said, “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.” Officials were “still finding and counting ballots” two days after the polls closed, Scott said.

His accusations got a prominent booster in President Donald Trump, who began alleging fraud in this Florida race (with no evidence) two years before alleging fraud in the presidential race (again with no evidence).

Nothing ever came of Scott’s allegations. He continues to repeat them. What gives?

The Facts

In his televised statement, from Nov. 8, 2018, Scott said, “It has been over 48 hours since the polls closed and Broward and Palm Beach counties are still finding and counting ballots … and the [election] supervisors, Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher, cannot seem to say how many ballots still exist and where these ballots came from or where they have been.”

When asked about the 2020 presidential race and Trump’s fraud allegations in recent months, Scott has compared them to his own accusations. Florida officials, he says, “found” 95,000 ballots after election night and violated the law in 2018.

Scott has not offered evidence of this sweeping claim. Under Florida law, election officials had from the time of polls closing on Tuesday until noon on Saturday to finish counting votes. State investigators who looked into the 2018 election did not seek criminal charges or produce evidence of vote-rigging. Scott’s office did not reply to our questions.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) initially responded to Scott’s claims in 2018 by saying it would investigate the two Democratic election officials, in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The department reversed itself within a day and dropped the matter. “What changed is this morning we spoke with the Department of State and they indicated they had no criminal allegations of fraud,” an FDLE representative told Politico in 2018. “So, after speaking to them, we offered our assistance in the event any criminal allegations are identified.”

Florida’s secretary of state at the time was Ken Detzner (R), a Scott appointee. The FDLE commissioner, Richard L. Swearingen, was named by Scott in 2014 and approved by the Cabinet in 2015. Without a formal allegation from the Department of State that county election officials illegally found thousands of votes, the FDLE had nothing to investigate.

Regarding other allegations, an FDLE representative told us the department “conducted a few investigations following the 2018 Midterm elections. … No additional information has been reported to FDLE since we completed our cases.”

The representative sent us summaries of three probes, all of which ended without finding widespread voter fraud. One of the investigations took 17 months, concluding that three Democratic officials “had no intent of circulating” a ballot “cure” form with submission dates that had been altered. One of the FDLE probes concluded that Republican observers were not denied access to Broward County’s vote count. A third investigation found that the supervisor of elections in Republican-dominated Bay County allowed 12 votes to be emailed, which Florida law does not permit.

Even some Democrats criticized the election officials in Broward County for their handling of the 2018 vote and history of lapses. (Snipes has since been replaced.) “The Broward SOE [supervisor of elections] got overwhelmed by late vote-by-mail ballots and rather than counting early, as they do traditionally, they counted them after,” said Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who was not working for a candidate in the 2018 race. “The competence of the office is a fair question, but the fraud accusation is absurd. In fact, the ballots received but not counted was on their website the whole time.”

As Politico reported last year: “Rather than continually update the election system on election night with a running tally of ballots counted, Broward officials uploaded tens of thousands of ballots at irregular times late at night. Because of the county’s sheer size and liberal-leaning electorate, the new ballots caused statewide margins to shift suddenly in Democrats’ favor.”

On Twitter, Schale noted during the 2018 vote count how one section of the Broward County website at one point showed 29,000 fewer ballots cast than another section of the same website displaying the accurate total.

“Folks kept insinuating that there must be fraud because votes were counted after Election Day — but the Broward website had them there the whole time,” he said. “Data wasn’t on [the] same page — one was from their live election turnout tool, the other their results page.”

Another investigation turned up relatively few cases of potential voter fraud. “Reviewing the 2018 election, [Broward County Supervisor of Elections Pete] Antonacci, a Republican, found 21 cases of people who illegally voted twice and one instance of a noncitizen who voted unlawfully,” Politico reported. “Out of more 709,180 ballots cast in the county, those cases brought the potential fraud rate to 0.003 percent.”

Scott’s claim boils down to 95,000 votes allegedly “found” after election night in violation of state law. So far, we have a bunch of nothing in support of his claim.

In Miami-Dade County, 266 ballots arrived after the deadline for the 2018 election, but they were not counted.

“I didn’t see his claims go anywhere after the election,” said Daniel A. Smith, chair of the political science department at the University of Florida. “There were certainly problems in that election [regarding] Broward County’s flawed ballot, but that cost Senator Nelson votes, not Scott.”

In a 2019 study, Smith and other researchers found that placing federal contests beneath a set of ballot instructions in three languages “caused some Broward voters to undervote accidentally in the Senate race” and that “the large number of Senate undervotes cast in Broward County may have altered the outcome of the Senate contest there — though the data cannot decisively pin down whether this happened.”

A Scott spokesman previously said after the FDLE investigations concluded, “During the 2018 recount, certain Supervisors of Elections were openly disregarding state laws that were meant to prevent fraud, as confirmed by multiple court decisions.”

On one hand, Scott blames “activist” judges for what happened in Florida, and on the other, Scott’s spokesman says his claims of election-law violations are confirmed by “multiple court decisions.” No court has offered support for Scott’s claim that votes were “found” illegally after polls closed, though one judge ruled in 2018 that Broward County election officials should release various records he was seeking.

The Pinocchio Test

This is a Four Pinocchio claim. Scott for years has been alleging large-scale violations in Florida’s 2018 election but has never coughed up the proof.

He says 95,000 votes were found illegally after the polls closed in 2018. But the votes were always there and officials counted them before the legal deadline. Florida officials — at agencies led by Scott appointees — investigated his claims while he was governor and produced no evidence to support his flimsy and inflammatory charges.

Four Pinocchios

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