Florida’s ongoing vote recount was further complicated Thursday when a judge ruled that some 4,000 voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected due to incompatible signatures will have until Saturday to correct their ballots.
The decision, reached by Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, comes just hours before the 3p.m. Thursday recount deadline. It will effect voters who cast either mail-in or provisional ballots with signatures that did not match existing records in state databases.
While the decision will likely help further close the gap between Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson and Republican challenger Rick Scott, who currently leads the race, it was not the total victory Nelson hoped for. Nelson’s attorneys asked the judge to reject the signature-match requirement totally, but Walker instead ruled that the requirement was applied unlawfully because voters were not given adequate opportunity to correct the error.
Employing a sports analogy, Walker said he would not dismiss legislation governing elections simply because it was improperly enforced.
“Football fans may quibble about the substance of the rules, but no one quibbles that rules are necessary to play the game,” he wrote in his opinion.
“Here, potentially thousands of voters have been deprived of the right to cast a legal vote — and have that vote counted — by an untrained canvassing board member based on an arbitrary determination that their respective signatures did not match,” wrote Walker, an Obama appointee. “Such a violation of the right to vote cannot be undone.”
While the machine recount concludes Thursday afternoon, the Senate race is expected to proceed to a manual recount on Friday given Scott’s lead has deteriorated to just 13,000 votes. The gubernatorial contest between Republican representative Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, will likely be decided at the conclusion of the machine recount on Thursday as DeSantis leads by roughly 34,000 votes.