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GOP Senate candidate Rick Scott files bombshell lawsuit accusing Dem Florida election officials of trying to 'steal the election'

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Florida's Senate, gubernatorial races headed for recount

Republican Governor Scott's small lead over incumbent Democratic Senator Nelson continues shrinking. Phil Keating has more for 'Special Report.'

Accusing Democrats of a coordinated effort to "steal the election," Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott filed explosive lawsuits late Thursday against the top election officials in two heavily Democratic counties, charging they are illegally refusing to provide any information about the number of ballots cast or counted there.

The bombshell litigation comes hours after Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, in an extraordinary series of tweets that alleged incompetence if not outright complicity by Florida officials, charged that Democratic lawyers were "descending on" the state in a calculated attempt to "change the results" and "try and steal" several statewide races.

"The people of Florida deserve fairness and transparency, and the supervisors are failing to give it to us," Scott said in a press conference announcing the suit.

A recount now appears imminent not only in Scott's race, but also in the agricultural commissioner race and Florida's high-profile gubernatorial contest between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis, based on new vote totals -- even though Gillum has already conceded.

"This is a clear violation of Florida law."

— GOP Florida Senate candidate Rick Scott

Speaking to Fox News' "Hannity" Thursday night, Scott said, "we don't know how many votes they're gonna come up with. But it seems they're going to try to come up with as many votes as it takes to win this election. ... We're gonna fight this, and we're gonna win."

Scott's emergency complaints accuse Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher of being "unwilling to disclose records revealing how many electors voted, how many ballots have been canvassed, and how many ballots remain to be canvassed," and charges that the uncertainty "raises substantial concerns about the validity of the election process."

The National Republican Senatorial Committeee (NRSC) specifically allege that Snipes is in violation of the Florida Constitution and the Florida Public Records Act. They demand an emergency hearing, as well as a court order requiring Snipes to turn over information about ballots in Broward County.

Scott also singled out Palm Beach County, another Democratic stronghold, for failing to provide voter information. "This is a clear violation of Florida law," he said.

Rubio, in his barrage of broadsides against Snipes earlier in the day, pointed to the "slow drip" of tens of thousands of additional ballots that were reported throughout the day Thursday, most of which were favorable to several Democratic candidates, including Scott's opponent, incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Rubio said those late disclosures violated Florida election law, which necessitates that mail-in and early voting ballots be counted within 30 minutes of polls closing.

"BayCounty was hit by a Cat 4 Hurricane just 4 weeks ago, yet managed to count votes & submit timely results," Rubio wrote. "Yet over 41 hours after polls closed #Broward elections office is still counting votes?"

He added later in the day: "Why can’t #BrowardCounty elections do what 65 of 67 counties did, count all votes in timely way & in compliance with #Florida law?"

Rubio made clear he has no confidence in the Snipes' integrity earlier in the day.

"A U.S. Senate seat & a statewide cabinet officer are now potentially in the hands of an elections supervisor with a history of incompetence & of blatant violations of state & federal laws," he wrote, linking to a Miami Herald article describing several scandals that have gripped Broward County’s Elections Department.

Earlier this year, a judge found that Snipes had illegally destroyed ballots in a 2016 congressional contest, leading the governor's office to assign election monitors to supervise her.

“I think the problems are blown out of proportion,” Snipes said in October, in an interview with The Miami Herald. “Broward is nitpicked to the bone. Other places have the same problems, different problems. It’s just that they are not spotlighted like we are.”

Scott v Snipes by Fox News on Scribd

"In 2016, Brenda Snipes’ office posted election results half an hour before polls closed – a violation of election law. That same year, her office was sued for leaving amendments off of ballots," Scott said at his press conference Thursday. "In 2014, Brenda Snipes’ fellow democrats accused her of individual and systemic breakdowns that made it difficult for voters to cast regular ballots. All Floridians should be concerned about that."

Vote totals in several major races in the state are changing rapidly, on an irregular schedule and sometimes late into the evening. Scott, who is also Florida's governor, was ahead of Nelson by roughly one-fourth of one percentage point as of Thursday morning, according to The Tampa Bay Times. The paper also said the agriculture commissioner candidates were separated by only 0.06 points. That race flipped in favor of the Democratic candidate on Thursday afternoon.

Broward County reported that significantly more votes were received in the agriculture commissioner contest than the much higher-profile Senate election. An attorney for Nelson's campaign suggested a computer error might explain that anomaly.

In the closely watched gubernatorial race, DeSantis' held a narrow 0.52-percentage-point edge over Gillum as of Thursday morning, extremely close to the 0.5 percent threshold needed to trigger a machine recount. Gillum has conceded the race, although his decision is nonbinding.

But by Thursday afternoon, unofficial figures had DeSantis up by just 38,515 votes out of the more than 8 million cast -- a lead of just 0.47 percent, low enough to trigger a mandatory recount, according to The Tallahassee Democrat. No recount has yet been announced by Florida's secretary of state, and the first unofficial count is expected to be verified Saturday by Florida's secretary of state.

"On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count," Gillum's campaign said in a statement Thursday evening. "Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported. Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount."

Complaint by Fox News on Scribd

Without providing legally sufficient justification, Rubio said, Democrat-controlled Broward and Palm Beach counties on Wednesday afternoon continued to report new ballots, cutting into Scott's already-thin lead and flipping the state's agriculture commissioner race to Democrats. Provisional ballots cast by voters without proper identification or at the wrong location are factoring into the late results, and Florida officials have rejected campaigns' requests for the identity of those voters, citing federal and state law.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told Fox News that Palm Beach is still counting about 2,000 mail-in ballots where voters circled or highlighted (by drawing an arrow pointing at the candidate’s name) their choice, instead of filling in the appropriate bubbles.

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Under Florida law, the state elections department is allowed to determine voter intent. Bucher told Fox News that elections department staff is going through each of the 2,000 mail-in ballots, and where voter intent is determined, a worker is filling in a new ballot on behalf of the voter. Where voter intent cannot be determined, the ballot is sent to the canvassing board to undergo review.

Elections officials are also reviewing 1,500 military and overseas ballots which are still being counted. Florida law allows military servicemembers to mail or fax ballots in. A provisional vote report is due in Tallahassee on Saturday by noon.

GEORGIA DEMOCRATIC GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE STACEY ABRAMS REFUSES TO CONCEDE

"#Broward election supervisors ongoing violation of #Florida law requiring timely reporting isn’t just annoying incompetence," Rubio wrote. "It has opened the door for lawyers to come here & try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate & Florida Cabinet."

Broward county election officials did not return Fox News' request for comment.

Florida law dictates that if the margin in any race hits 0.25 percent or lower, a manual recount of any ballots set aside from the machine recount will be ordered -- reminiscent of the scene in the 2000 presidential election, when the country was gripped by images of poll workers counting votes deciphering hanging chads by hand.

Fox News' Heather Lacy contributed to this report.

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