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Florida judge bemoans ‘laughing stock’ election recount system

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U.S. judges in Florida and Georgia on Thursday cleared the way for more ballots to be counted in undecided Senate and governor races, with the Florida jurist expressing frustration with an election system he called “the laughing stock of the world.”

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee, Florida, said his ruling aimed to ensure that as many as 5,000 people across the state who submitted ballots by mail that were rejected by election officials had a chance to have their voices heard.

In Florida, the recount of close races from the Nov. 6 elections and attendant legal disputes over the validity of votes have stirred memories of the 2000 U.S. presidential election, when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped an ongoing recount in the state, sending George W. Bush to the White House.

Walker grew testy during a series of Thursday hearings about lawsuits over the recounts, voicing frustration about how to handle different responses from a patchwork of county systems and also questioning the Florida legislature’s response to historic election problems.

“We have been the laughing stock of the world election after election,” Walker said. “But we’ve still chosen not to fix this.”

Separately, a federal judge in Georgia ordered state election officials to count some previously rejected ballots in that state’s governor’s race, where ballots are still being counted but Republican former Secretary of State Brian Kemp has declared victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

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Initial counts after the elections showed Florida’s outgoing governor, Republican Rick Scott, leading in his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. Republican Ron DeSantis led Democrat Andrew Gillum in the governor’s race.

In both races the margins of victory were below the 0.5 percentage point threshold at which state law requires a recount of ballots. The first round of recount, conducted by machine, is due to end at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday (2000 GMT).

Judge Walker’s ruling extends until 5 p.m. Saturday the window for voters whose ballots were challenged to confirm their identities.

Overall control of the U.S. Senate is not at stake in the Florida race. President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans extended their majority in the chamber while Democrats took a majority in the House of Representatives. But both the Senate and governor’s races are being closely scrutinized as Florida is traditionally a key swing state in presidential elections.

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The Democrats’ majority in the new House expanded by another seat on Thursday when the Maine Secretary of State’s office declared Jared Golden the winner of a race against incumbent Republican Representative Bruce Poliquin. That race represented an early test of a new state ranked-choice voting system, designed to prevent candidates in races with three or more contenders from winning office without majority support.

LEGAL SKIRMISHING
In Florida, Nelson’s lead attorney in the case, Marc Elias, praised the judge’s ruling on Thursday.

Republicans, who have also filed lawsuits challenging the process, decried the ruling and the Scott campaign filed an appeal.

“Another day, another chance for Marc Elias to rack up massive legal fees regardless of the blatant hypocrisy … or the damage this will do to Bill Nelson’s legacy,” Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said in an emailed statement.

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It was not clear that additional ballots allowed in either Florida or Georgia would tip the races in question.

Current official tallies from Florida show Scott leading Nelson by 50.07 percent of the vote to 49.92, with DeSantis on 49.59 percent to Gillum’s 49.18 percent.

Georgia’s results show Kemp leading Abrams 50.23 percent to 48.83 percent. The election was a three-way race that included a Libertarian candidate who drew close to 1 percent of the vote, and if Kemp’s total ended up dipping below 50 percent, he and Abrams would proceed to a runoff next month.

Just three of 15 consequential recounts of statewide U.S. elections from 2000 through 2015 resulted in a change of winner, according to a 2016 analysis by FairVote. Those recounts resulted in an average margin swing of just 0.019 percent – less than the margins in any of the three races currently being recounted, according to the nonpartisan group.

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This year’s campaigns went down as the most expensive midterm elections in U.S. history, with some $5.25 billion spent on advertising, up 78 percent from the last midterm elections in 2014, according to a Kantar Media analysis released on Thursday. Spending was 20 percent higher than the 2016 presidential election.

Reporting by Letitia Stein; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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‘Massive lie to the American people’: Congressman says Trump enlisted Hope Hicks to cover up hush payments

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On Thursday's edition of CNN's "OutFront," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) discussed ex-White House Communications Director Hope Hicks' testimony before the House Judiciary Committee regarding President Donald Trump — particularly her claim that she did not know whether the denial Trump directed her to give about the hush payments to women during the 2016 campaign was true.

"I don't believe her, because that was such a huge fact that she was repeating on behalf of Donald Trump, and it turned out to be a massive lie," Lieu told anchor Erin Burnett. "When she realized that it was a lie, she was not able to talk about that, because she got that information while she was at the White House, and [the lawyers] objected to everything about her tenure at the White House, but she did confirm that essentially Donald Trump directed her to make this massive lie to American people."

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‘This is ridiculous’: ex-prosecutor rips Democrats for not even swearing-in Hope Hicks before her testimony

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The House Judiciary Committee failed in how they went about interviewing Hope Hicks, the longtime Trump advisor who rose to White House communications director.

On Thursday, the committee released a 273-page transcript of Hicks testimony behind closed doors.

For analysis, MSNBC "Hardball" anchor Chris Matthews interviewed former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne.

Lawyers representing Hicks repeatedly objected to her answer questions.

"What is this thing, this word objection? This is loaded, all this wasted paper, a lot of this paper simply has the word objection on it," Matthews said, holding up a 271-page printout of Hicks' transcript.

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Trump campaign brags Mexico is paying for an imaginary wall — while Americans are stuck with the very real tab

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On Thursday's edition of MSNBC's "The Beat," Ari Melber confronted Marc Lotter, a campaign official with President Donald Trump's 2020 efforts, on his broken promise to make Mexico pay for the wall. Lotter's response was to insist that Mexico was, in fact, paying for a wall — sort of.

"Donald Trump assured everyone, including his base, he says is going to be key, he promised them one thing about the wall. You know what it is. He promised them that somebody else would pay for it," said Melber, playing clip after clip of Trump saying Mexico would pay. "As president, Donald Trump has fought hard, shut down the government, and even used executive powers to seize funds to make Americans pay for the wall. Do you think that's sort of the toughest broken promise for the re-election campaign?"

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