Florida judge gives more time for voters to fix rejected ballots

As deadline for machine recount draws near, more than 4,000 voters given time to correct signature issue on ballots.

    A worker holds ballots before a ballot recount in Lauderhill, Florida on November 12 [Carlo Allegri/Reuters]
    A worker holds ballots before a ballot recount in Lauderhill, Florida on November 12 [Carlo Allegri/Reuters]

    A federal judge is giving thousands of Florida voters until the end of Saturday to fix their ballots if they haven't been counted due to mismatched signatures.

    US District Judge Mark Walker ruled early Thursday that current Florida law on mail-in ballots places a substantial burden on voters. The ruling comes as Florida wraps a recount in three statewide races.

    Walker did not go along with a request from Democrats to count all ballots with mismatched signatures. Instead, he ordered that local election officials give voters until 5pm local time on Saturday to correct the problem so that their ballots can be counted. 

    State officials testified in court that nearly 4,000 ballots have already been rejected because local canvassing boards decided the signature that was mailed in did not match the signature on file.

    Walker rebuffed arguments from lawyers representing the state that allowing people until Saturday evening to fix their ballots would disrupt the recount process and the deadlines to report results. The deadline for hand recounts is Sunday.

    "I don't understand why it's going to completely bring Florida to its knees," Walker said.

    He said that, divided among 67 counties, the number of ballots would be only a handful per county, and they'd be considered while the elections supervisors are still counting overseas ballots.

    Walker asked: "What are the possibilities that all 5,000 are going to show up?" if people are given an opportunity to correct their signatures.

    "I can tell you the odds: Zero."

    Bitter struggle

    The state is the scene of a bitter struggle between Republican and Democrat politicians over the results of the Senate and governor races during last week's midterm elections.

    Republican candidates saw their leads whittled down after election night as ballots from urban areas, which lean Democrat, were counted.

    Margins fell to within the levels needed to force recounts in both the governor race, between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, and the Senate race between current Republican Governor Rick Scott and Democrat incumbent, Bill Nelson.

    Authorities ordered machine recounts of the votes last weekend, with a Thursday deadline to finish the recount.

    The Republicans have openly accused the Democrats of trying to "steal" the election despite presenting no evidence to support the claim.

    President Donald Trump also added to the grumblings about the recount by arguing without evidence that some people unlawfully participated in the election by dressing in disguise. 

    "When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles," Trump said in an interview with The Daily Caller published Wednesday. "Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again."

    The state elections department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, both run by Republican appointees, have said they haven't seen any evidence of voter fraud of this sort.

    Trump has floated other conspiracy theories about the Florida count without presenting any evidence to back up his claims. 

    This week a number of Democrats called on the president to stop bullying and threatening officials over the Florida recount.

    "Attempts to bully, threaten and cajole officials into not counting every vote is a large and dangerous step away from the democracy we all cherish," Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the Senate, said in a press conference. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies