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Nelson sues to count late vote-by-mail ballots in Florida

Election workers place ballots into electronic counting machines, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, at the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. The Florida recount begin Sunday morning in Broward County.

Election workers place ballots into electronic counting machines, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, at the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. The Florida recount begin Sunday morning in Broward County. | Joe Cavaretta /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is suing the Florida Department of State in an effort to count vote-by-mail ballots that were postmarked before Election Day but not delivered before polls closed.

Nelson’s attorney, Marc Elias, filed the lawsuit Monday, saying voters should not be disenfranchised because of mail delivery delays that aren’t their fault. Unofficial election results show Nelson trailing Republican Gov. Rick Scott by 0.14 percentage points.

As an example, he cited the Miami-Dade County postal facility that was evacuated when because explosive devices sent to prominent Democrats were processed there.

“Florida’s 7 p.m. Election Day receipt deadline for vote by mail ballots burdens the right to vote of eligible voters,” the suit said.

Elias wants all ballots postmarked before Nov. 6 to be counted if they are received within 10 days of the election.

Meanwhile, Scott wants law enforcement to impound Broward County’s voting machines and ballots when they’re not being used during the Florida recount.

Lawyers for Scott’s Senate campaign were asking Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter on Monday to give custody of all voting machines and ballots to the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement whenever they’re not being used.

The recount is already secured by police outside and deputies inside, with both parties and campaigns monitoring the entire process. Once calibration tests are completed on the ballot scanning machines, vote-counting will continue around the clock. So it’s unclear when any machines or ballots would be “not in use.”

Scott says Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes has a history of violating state law during vote-counting.

Mishaps, protests and litigation are overshadowing the vote recount in Florida’s pivotal races for governor and U.S. Senate, recalling the 2000 presidential fiasco in the premier political battleground state.

All 67 counties face a Thursday deadline to complete recounts. Half began last weekend amid early drama focused on Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to large concentrations of Democratic voters.

The recount was ordered Saturday after unofficial results showed Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis leading Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points for governor. Scott’s lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson was 0.14 percentage points for the Senate.

The recount is unprecedented even in a state notorious for settling elections by razor-thin margins.