For nearly a week, the parking lot behind the Broward County elections office has been the scene of an unfolding postelection drama, with protesters demanding the arrest of the local elections supervisor and politicians claiming fraud in the ballot-counting process. Gov. Rick Scott has fueled the fury, sending his lawyers to court in a bid to call in the police to prevent any possible tampering with ballot-counting machines.
So fraught has Florida’s election recount become that on Monday, the chief circuit judge in the county, Jack Tuter, issued a warning to the powerful political lawyers standing before him in court.
Words matter, the judge said. People are listening. Watch what you say.
“I am urging, because of the highly public nature of this case, to ramp down the rhetoric,” the judge said. “Everything the lawyers are saying out in front of the elections office is beamed all over the country. We need to be careful what we say. These words mean things these days, as everybody in the room knows.”
The judge’s words of caution came nearly a week after the 2018 midterm election, which left behind prolonged ballot counts in three states, including recounts in three close statewide races in Florida.
The results of the Florida recounts are not due until Thursday, but politicians have taken to social media to repeat unsubstantiated rumors of things like ballot boxes supposedly left behind at polling stations. And at least 10 lawsuits have been filed.
Governor Scott has seen his lead in the race for Senate shrink to less than 13,000 votes as populous, mainly Democratic counties counted absentee and provisional ballots. In an emergency hearing on Monday, his lawyers went to court in Broward County to ask the judge to order the sheriff’s office to impound voting machines and ballots when they were not in use. Democrats called the request a cynical maneuver meant to rile up their Republican base and undermine confidence in the election.
Judge Tuter said he did not have any evidence to support taking such an action, but he did recommend adding three additional deputies to guard the tabulation room in Broward County. He took the opportunity to softly scold lawyers for making public allegations they did not seem to be able to prove. Judge Tuter urged anyone with proof of any vote-counting irregularities to take it where it belongs: to the police. Or, he suggested, get a witness to sign a sworn affidavit.
The judge stressed that he was not “casting aspersions on any elected officials,” and said that he was encouraging increased security because there was too much suspicion of the process.
Florida was not the only state with races still undecided six days after the election: Georgia’s election for governor tightened on Monday — Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee, now leads the Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, by about 58,000 votes — even though many state and local offices were closed for Veterans Day.
While both campaigns there were closely monitoring vote totals that trickled in from counties, they were largely focused on a lawsuit that could lead to the counting of more absentee and provisional ballots, perhaps easing Ms. Abrams’s path toward a runoff. Unless a court intervenes, the deadline for county officials to file certified results is on Tuesday.
In Arizona, the close-fought Senate race awas finally decided on Monday. Representative Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat and former social worker, scored a groundbreaking victory in the race, defeating Martha McSally, a Republican congresswoman and former Air Force pilot.
Ms. Sinema’s victory, called by The Associated Press Monday evening, marks the first time since 1976 that a Democrat has won an open Senate seat in Arizona. Ms. McSally conceded after The A.P. called the race.
Florida still had work to do. Elections officials said that nine of the state’s 67 counties had finished their machine recounts by Monday afternoon, but 14 had not even started; the rest were in progress.
The lawsuits in Florida, some filed by Republicans and others by Democrats, have raised a variety of challenges. Republicans won access to vote tabulations and the timing of mailed-in ballots, arguing that only with greater transparency could it be assured that legally filed ballots were the only ones being tabulated. Democrats have challenged the disqualification of provisional ballots in cases where signatures do not match — a situation that can disproportionately affect minority voters.
“We have a trust issue in this county,” said Jason Zimmerman, a lawyer for Mr. Scott, who has a 12,600-vote lead over the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson, in the Senate race. Mr. Zimmerman was referring to a history of vote-count mishaps in Broward County, a history that has been cited by Mr. Nelson and others since the Nov. 7 balloting.
On Monday, the Democratic National Committee filed a federal lawsuit asking the court to order elections supervisors to count mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Election Day. Florida law says that the votes mailed domestically need to arrive by Election Day, regardless of when they were mailed; the lawsuit said that requirement subjects the votes to the vagaries of the Postal Service.
Under the law, overseas and military ballots that are postmarked on time can arrive up to 10 days after the election and be counted.
The Nelson campaign called on Monday for Mr. Scott to recuse himself from any role in the recount process. And the League of Women Voters and Common Cause Florida sued in federal court to try to force his recusal.
“I don’t think you should underestimate the rhetoric,” said Marc Elias, Mr. Nelson’s lawyer, referring to Mr. Scott’s fraud allegations. Poll workers were just trying to do their jobs, he said, and hearing the governor saying they are stealing an election “is, in fact, disruptive.”
Judge Tuter refused the request for an injunction to impound the vote-counting machines and ballots, but urged both sides to work out an agreement about extra security over lunch, which they did.
“Because there is so much going on in the public domain, I believe there needs to be some additional way of instilling confidence that votes are being protected,” he said. “Make sure that everybody has a degree of comfort that no ballots are leaving the office.”
The dozens of protesters shouting each day outside the Broward elections office have been so worked up that on Saturday, when a Republican congressman from the Florida Panhandle held a news conference standing in front of photocopy-paper boxes labeled “ballots,” the protesters thought they were real. “Open the box!” one woman shouted.
“It’s a prop,” Rep. Matt Gaetz said softly, deflating the crowd.
Mr. Gaetz had one important goal: The state, he said, should take over the office of Brenda C. Snipes, the elections supervisor in Broward County.
Ms. Snipes spoke to reporters on Monday to defend herself against harsh criticisms leveled by Republican politicians, including President Trump. She said it was the first time in her 15 years in office that she had been “attacked” in such a personal manner.
“We’re in an era when people oftentimes speak without vetting their information,” she said. “I do not know where the president gets his information. I have not spoken to the president.”
Her lawyer, Eugene K. Pettis, said he doubted that adding extra police officers would quiet the rowdy protests outside Ms. Snipes’s office. When he tried to update reporters over the weekend, he was shouted down by people screaming things like “When is she going to jail for stealing an election?”
“The behavior that you see around the election process has deteriorated with every election we’ve had in this country,” Mr. Pettis said in an interview. “I’m 58 years old, and it seems to be getting worse and worse and worse. You go outside the doors, it looks like a campaign rally out there, versus anything else.”
Outside the election supervisor’s headquarters in a shopping mall near Fort Lauderdale, some two dozen protesters milled about on Monday, almost all expressing the view that the election had been rigged against Republican candidates.
Signs proliferated in favor of Mr. Trump and the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Representative Ron DeSantis, who has a lead of about 33,500 votes over his opponent, Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee. Some of the protesters posed next to a life-size cutout of the president standing at a podium with American flags fluttering in the breeze.
One sign expressed “no confidence” in Ms. Snipes, with expletives attached.
“I worry about this process as long as someone like Brenda Snipes is in charge of this office,” said David Rosenthal, a 62-year-old retired letter carrier and Navy veteran, jerking a thumb at the building behind him.
Nearby, a plastic skeleton of the kind used in anatomy classes was propped up in a canvas chair, holding a sign that said, “Thank you Brenda for counting my vote.”
As the recount unfolded, there were hiccups. In Palm Beach County, a Republican election observer called a halt to the count, saying he objected to workers checking ballots that the machines had rejected, a task that he said should be done by the official canvassing board.
The county’s elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, agreed to revise the process. “I will never, ever do that again,” she said.
In the storm-ravaged Panhandle, the elections supervisor of Bay County, Mark Andersen, acknowledged on Monday that he had accepted 11 ballots cast by email and 147 by fax. Florida law makes no allowances for email voting, but does allow some overseas voters to cast ballots by fax.
The state’s top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, had sent a notice in October prohibiting either method, even for the storm-affected areas that received special election considerations from the governor.
Mr. Andersen defended his actions in accepting the votes, citing the extreme conditions that prevailed in the wake of the storm. For each ballot, he said, voters signed an oath attesting to his or her identity. His staff later verified the signatures.
“What people should be doing is, be happy that democracy happened in Bay County,” he said, “regardless of a hurricane going through.”