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Wednesday, Mar 20, 2019
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Editorial: Count every vote

Elections have two parts: You vote, then count the vote. Floridians did their part by turning out in record numbers in Tuesday's midterm elections. Now it falls to local election supervisors to ensure that every vote is accurately counted.

Gov. Rick Scott and his Republican allies jumped the gun by fanning a conspiracy that "unethical liberals" were trying to "steal this election." Scott's outburst late Thursday, on the steps of the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee no less, was another preemptive strike in his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott claimed victory in a speech just before midnight Tuesday, even as votes in the razor-thin race were still being counted. And in the three days since declaring victory, Scott's vote advantage had dropped to only 15,074 votes from about 60,000, out of nearly 8.2 million cast in the race.

The only theft going on would be if elections supervisors in Florida's 67 counties failed to fully count the votes as prescribed under Florida law. Voting may have ended Tuesday, but supervisors across the state are still counting thousands of ballots. Some were cast during the early voting period. Others by mail. Unofficial elections results from the counties are not even due to the state until Saturday. That figure will include the number of provisional ballots, which voters cast if they forgot an I.D. or faced some other discrepancy at the polls. In 2016, some 11,000 provisional ballots - nearly half of all cast - were counted. Mail-in ballots from active-duty military are not even due until Nov. 16. Three counties alone - Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade - together sent 15,000 ballots overseas.

The point is that many votes are outstanding, and elections supervisors have a legal obligation to count every valid one. That may not suit the timetable for some candidates; several Democrats, too, have presumptively declared victory. But it doesn't mean the elections are being delayed, must less stolen. Scott's rhetoric, the lawsuits and broadsides he filed Thursday against elections supervisors in Democratic-rich Palm Beach and Broward counties and his order for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate only interferes with the vote count and illegitimately tarnishes the integrity of the elections process.

Florida has had a generation to get voting right, and while it's fair to question the competency of Broward supervisor Brenda Snipes, the same politicians crying foul could have strengthened the voting process during their times in office by adopting more uniform statewide standards for vote counting, improved protocols for vote-by-mail and easier-to-understand ballot designs. But it's another leap entirely to suggest that over-loaded supervisors are engaged in fraud to throw an election. And demonizing a recount is downright ridiculous. Recounts are required automatically under Florida law in the closest elections - for the purpose of getting the result right. As of midday Friday, three statewide elections were all close enough to require machine recounts - for the Senate seat, governor and state agriculture commissioner. Also under Florida law, at least two of them could require a hand recount of ballots.

At this stage, though, it's vital that local elections supervisors be allowed to do their work with political interference or bullying. The courts aren't closing up shop, and it's a certain bet both parties will have the resources and opportunity to make their case. Nelson also filed suit Thursday, calling on the state - not local supervisors - to have the final say in qualifying provisional ballots. Let's get a final count from this election before challenging it. That's what common sense and the law requires.

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