Last Saturday, Florida’s Secretary of State—Republican Ken Detzner—ordered a state-wide recount in the races for governor, Senate, and agricultural commissioner. Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson—Democratic candidates for governor and Senator, respectively—have, after a still incomplete count of outstanding ballots, pulled within several thousand votes of their Republican opponents, and the late votes have already closed the gaps significantly. Nelson was close enough to his opponent Rick Scott (who appointed Detzner) to have triggered a hand recount, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who conceded defeat last Wednesday but soon after retracted, was within margin for a machine recount.
Rather than abiding by Florida law, however—or an order from the Republican Secretary of State—the GOP has challenged not the validity of a recount, but, citing criminal conspiracy, the validity of the votes themselves. The conspiracy theorists include the President of the United States of America, who earlier this week, offering zero evidence, said the final votes in Florida—which, as a racist, he tweeted were “massively infected”—shouldn’t count, accusing Democrats of trying to steal the elections. Trump also said without providing any evidence or claiming there was any evidence to begin with, that “large numbers of ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged.”
None of this has been proved true, at least not to an extent that would affect the final tallies in Florida, which have margins in the tens of thousands.
Trump’s solution is pure fascism: Not a recount; not a runoff; but reversion to the incomplete tallies last Wednesday that said Republican candidates Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis (for Senate and governor, respectively) both won…for no apparent reason other than that was the tally at that arbitrary time.
Simply: The President of the United States called for nullification of the vote in order to guarantee his party’s victory.
This is what dictators do, and the only thing stopping Donald Trump from being a dictator is the slimmest armature of opposition from a Democrat party who just took the House of Representatives. But even that probably won’t be enough: It might not seem like it, but this right-wing conspiracy theory — that Democrats are trying, illegally, to steal an election—could turn out to be the worst thing Trump has ever done.
It’s not even close. Though plenty of other horrorshows come to mind—his reaction to Charlottesville; breaking up families on the border; sabotaging the ACA; publicly endorsing Russian Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies; threatening nuclear war on social media; inspiring maniacs who literally cite his rhetoric to kill people, and then blaming the people who were attacked—those were immediate and pointed events. This attack, however, will spool out over time, and if the GOP doesn’t back down, the Florida election—and likely Georgia’s as well—will force the United States to an unresolvable constitutional crisis with profound consequences: Mere partisanship can stop an election.
All it takes to collapse a democracy is a group of stubborn people in power. When democracy fails, everything else will go with it. The last two years will seem as inert and sanctified as the dusty bowl of Werther’s Originals placed atop your grandparents’ toilet tank for some reason.
So here’s what’s happening in the state that, depending whether you read it left to right or right to left, looks like either a flaccid penis or a pistol, respectively, and which, as the bane of our electoral process for nearly two decades, might fittingly finally shoot America right in the twig and berries.
Conspiracy vs. Reality: Part One
Last Wednesday, Gillum conceded the governor’s race to DeSantis. Soon afterwards, however, election officials in Broward County discovered boxes of uncounted ballots in a precinct mail room. Officials also decided some ballot inconsistencies which had previously rendered some votes invalid—such as mismatching signatures or addresses—could be resolved, often by reaching out to the voters themselves. Other precincts reported that thousands of Florida’s 8.2 million votes hadn’t yet been counted. Gillum has since retracted his concession pending a recount.
Now, the GOP conspiracy theory—which hasn’t only been pushed by MAGA dingbats and their talking toilet-king, but presumptively more reasonable voices such as Florida’s other Senator, Marco Rubio, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham—has questioned specifically votes from Broward County and Palm Beach, which both lean left and are home to, surprise!, large minority populations. The GOP claims essentially two things: The found votes should be invalidated because they were discovered after the state had counted “all” the votes, which assumes circularly these aren’t legal votes without taking the time to prove they aren’t legal; and that people, specifically non-citizens, are voting illegally in droves.
And that no one will get caught.
First, let’s take the issue of the recently discovered votes. Republicans are saying, without evidence, that Democrats could have planted those ballots after the initial count in order to steal the election. This is insane for eleven — eleven reasons:
1. I can’t believe I have to explain why it’s insane.
2. They don’t even know if these votes lean Democrat or Republican. They just believe they do.
3. Deriving from that premise, the GOP must also assume the overwhelming majority of these ballots—and I mean overwhelming, considering the margins between these candidates were several tens of thousands of votes—were cast for Democratic candidates. Though Broward County votes reliably Democratic, this isn’t just a basket of Nelson/Gillum tickets.
4. Along the same lines, the GOP conspiracy theory must also presume there are enough of these ballots around the state to make a dent in the final count. In other words, there must be enough totally fake ballots, combined with illegally cast ballots, to overcome the initial margins of tens of thousands of votes.
5. Related, the GOP also presumes that all these Democratic ballots are outright fakes. That syllogism itself necessarily includes these premises: That Democrats also faked Republican votes in the mix; they meticulously balanced the faked votes so GOP votes would cancel out jusssssst enough blue votes to a) make no statistical difference to a monumental statewide Democrat gain from the fake ballots, while also b) not raising alarms of an irregular statistical pattern that would merit closer inspection.
6. This conspiracy also requires that Florida election officials — who are bipartisan and, once again, work under the orders of a Republican Secretary of State who was appointed by one of the Republican candidates subject to a recount — are too incompetent (up to and including the Scott-appointed Secretary of State) or the system too catholically corrupt to determine that thousands of completely fake ballots discovered in suspicious conditions are all indeed just fine. Those ballots must have been masterfully faked by secret leftist expert forgers. This would mean that either a) only criminally corrupt Democratic election officials will ever inspect and tally these fake ballots, and/or b) Republican election officials are either in on it or too stupid to check out these ballots that people all over the country have called their attention to. Secretary of State Detzner would have to say, “Don’t cross-check voter rolls, don’t make calls to follow with these voters, don’t knock on any doors, etc etc. This box of votes found in the dark after the fact is of no concern to me, a Republican, who, need I remind you again, was appointed by and for six years served a candidate in one of these races.”
7. They did it all in broad daylight, announcing to the whole nation that votes had been found after the election, making the bet that no one would want to make sure these things were indeed legit.
8. The best for last: A rogue GOP election official or outside right-wing operative, concerned the blue vote in Broward might put Democrats over the top, simply hid a box in a closet. Given the substantial hurdles above, this is exponentially more feasible. The votes wouldn’t even have to be faked. They just wouldn’t be counted, and no one would know the difference. No one on the right can prove this isn’t the case, but I don’t necessarily believe it. It’s possible, I guess, and the motivation is there, but I’ve got no evidence to back it up. Right now it’s flat-out wrong to make that allegation.
9. I lied. This is the best premise: If the GOP believes this renders the vote count invalid, they must also believe that more scrutiny by more election officials and more attorneys around the country representing both parties will somehow yield less accurate results. And that systemic inaccuracy — again, all overseen and agreed to by a Republican appointed to this very position by one of the candidates — would without doubt favor Democrats.
10. I lied again. The conspiracy also requires a fundamental rethinking of what the truth is worth: The GOP must also assert timeliness is more important than the truth. (Marco Rubio made this point in a tweet.) In other words, it’s not worth waiting a couple weeks to make sure Florida puts into office the guy its citizens lawfully elected. That is INSANE on its face, but if you need actual proof of their scumminess I’ll just direct you to Florida’s 2000 Bush-Gore recount, which started out with a declared Gore victory, then went through a series of challenges and about a month later wound up before the Supreme Court.
11. I LIED AGAIN. Election officials in Broward said those boxes, marked “provisional ballots,” didn’t contain any ballots at all. They contained the things precincts provided voters who needed to submit a provisional ballot, such as office supplies and empty red envelopes marked “provisional ballot.” So okay, maybe the bipartisan board is totally lying about this and has already secretly mixed the masterfully faked ballots in with the real ones.
Anyway, the conspiracy has to meet all of those conditions. If you believe it’s possible for a shadowy cabal of Democratic criminals abetted by GOP complicity or stupidity to pull this off, I really, really, really hope you’re not qualified to vote.
We’re not done!
Conspiracy vs. Reality: Part Two
The perennial GOP demon: Illegal votes.
What they mean is votes by non-citizens. This conspiracy is so ridiculous and hermetic that a google search beginning with “Florida illegal” yielded “Florida illegal pets,” “Florida illegal dumping,” and “Florida illegal driving” as the top three results. So far, right-wing jagoffs point out that Broward County apparently submitted 22 illegal votes among a total 205 provisional ballots. Violations included mismatched signatures, among others.
Wow, 22. Why were they counted? They were initially marked invalid, but got mixed in with the valid votes. Then upon required further review someone saw, oh yeah, these are clearly marked invalid.
In court, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections argued that all 205 provisional ballots should be counted. The opposing attorney—William Scherer, who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 recount in the same stupid state—countered, without citing evidence, that the batch of 22 included instances of double-voting. “They keep the door open so that the rats can run in, rather than the rats run out,” he added, not so subtly calling illegal immigrants rats in a court of law.
But. This means further vetting has actually invalidated votes that would otherwise have sailed through.
Governor and petulant candidate Rick Scott pointed out that the Broward County Board of Elections has a history of problems. Yet we know about those problems thanks to the vetting process he now doesn’t want to go through. Beyond that, Broward’s elections supervisor, who answers to the Florida Secretary of State—who, again, is a Republican appointed by Scott himself—wasn’t removed after any of those violations.
In other words, more scrutiny yields more accurate results. Weird!
Weirder still: It’s not partisan! Bay County counted email votes, an option which Governor Scott made illegal in the wake of recent Hurricane Michael. Of the 147 electronically submitted ballots in Bay County—where many residents still don’t have power, water, or even homes—only ten were via email-to-email. The rest were faxed, which Scott’s order rendered invalid in Bay County but is legal for overseas votes.
Governor Scott has alleged “widespread fraud” in his state without citing evidence. Though he’s harped on Broward and Palm Beach, the governor hasn’t mentioned Bay County, which went 73% for Scott and 71% for DeSantis.
Though it’s true that Florida has discovered—over the years—that a few thousand non-citizens have been registered to vote (in Florida you need a driver’s license to register, which non-citizens can get), the state takes voter fraud seriously and, thanks to VETTING, has caught these people.
Obviously none of this makes sense. Closer inspection will not create fraud. It will root it out. So why resist?
The GOP’s obstruction efforts make sense if you care only about victory, and not about democracy.
Look, Republicans figure they had the win locked down the day after Election Day, before all ballots were in, so any further review can only hurt them. They don’t want to lose, and the only reason they fear a complete tally is that they know there’s a good chance they lose. And now the President of the United States, echoed by prominent national and local Republicans, ordered Florida to invalidate the recount results and instead instate the candidates he wants.
The evidence they cite is unfalsifiable, so in the minds of millions of Americans it will always be true: If Gillum and/or Nelson win, millions of Americans will reject the result. What happens then?
The best we can hope for is that the GOP recognizes this is anti-democratic and, in the event of Democratic victory, forces Scott and DeSantis to accept the results. This is the path taken by Arizona Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally, who in a tight contested race of her own rejected demands from the GOP to spread conspiracy theories that thousands of Arizonans had voted illegally. (The Arizona Republican party filed a FOIA request for communication between the Maricopa County elections board and George Soros.) Monday night, McSally conceded the race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.
That is democracy.
The Florida dispute could also wind up in front of the Supreme Court, where Trump just appointed an unqualified and deeply partisan justice who a few weeks ago in front of Congress threatened revenge against Democrats he had felt slighted him.
But Scott and DeSantis show no signs of respect for the institutions they’ve pledged to uphold. Unless they’re bluffing, their toxic rhetoric indicates they won’t give up the fight. They now also have the President’s support, who doesn’t want them to concede and, should the election go the other way, will more than likely at least try to reject the results himself. But even if his advisers convince him to accept a GOP defeat, Trump has already trained millions of Americans to reject the results of a national election, and they will.
Recall Trump’s pre-emptive allegations that the 2016 elections would be “rigged” against him. Recall him obstructing an investigation into himself and his campaign for the last year and a half. Recall his threats to the press, the intelligence community, and opposition leaders. Recall so much.
This is at very best a dry run for 2020. Donald Trump will never concede. The mainstream GOP seems to have turned a corner, and unless they figure these tactics are relatively harmless now but would be off-limits in a presidential election, they’ll go along with it in the name of power. Even if they don’t, though, it won’t matter: They’ve given marching orders to millions and millions of Americans. This is fascism. Not only can it happen here, it already has.