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Federal Judge Rejects Nelson’s Challenge to Vote-Count Rules

Senator Bill Nelson (D, Fla.) testifies during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 14, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/REUTERS)

A federal judge on Friday rejected Senator Bill Nelson’s (D., Fla.) challenge to rules used by canvassing boards to determine the validity of ballots.

Judge Mark Walker found that the so-called “magic words” requirement and the “consistency” requirement were reasonable and constitutional, rejecting Nelson’s claim that the rules violate the Constitution’s equal-protections clause and its free-speech guarantees.

“The issue is whether the use of these reasonable and natural rules is constitutional,” Walker wrote in the opinion. “It is.”

The case was brought to expand the number of previously rejected ballots that will be included in the manual recount ordered by Secretary of State Ken Dretzner on Thursday. Nelson, who is trailing Scott by 12,603 votes following the machine recount that concluded Thursday, has filed a number of legal challenges in an effort to cut into Scott’s lead through the admission of previously rejected ballots.

Walker handed Nelson’s team a marginal victory on Thursday by allowing voters until Saturday to correct ballots that were rejected due to mismatched signatures.

The Nelson campaign also filed suit Thursday to ensure that a manual recount of the 588,562 ballots cast in Palm Beach County will be conducted due to concerns that the county will fail to meet the Sunday recount deadline. Palm Beach elections supervisor Susan Bucher said Thursday that her office, which failed to meet the Thursday machine-recount deadline, should complete the manual recount by Friday, which would render Nelson’s suit moot.

The Florida governor’s race, meanwhile, is all but decided as Republican representative Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum after the machine recount by a margin sufficient to forego a manual recount. Gillum, however, has not yet conceded.

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