Liberal Dark-Money Group Files Suit to Validate Late Mail-In Ballots in Florida

Mail-in ballots for the congressional election are dropped off at a drive-through polling location in San Diego, Calif., October 22, 2018 (Mike Blake/Reuters)

VoteVets, an influential liberal super PAC reliant on obscure funding sources, filed suit Monday in an effort to validate mail-in ballots received after Election Day as part of Democrats’ ongoing effort to win the Florida gubernatorial and Senate victories in recounts.

VoteVets joined the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) in asking the courts to intercede on behalf of voters who mailed their ballots on time but were effectively disenfranchised when the post office failed to deliver them by the Election Day deadline.

Florida law requires that mail-in ballots arrive at a polling place before 7 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted, but the plaintiffs in this case ask that the state count all ballots postmarked prior to the deadline.

The suit is one prong of a broader legal strategy pursued by veteran Democratic attorney Marc Elias in an effort to pull out victories in the state’s senate and gubernatorial races, which Republican nominees Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis continue to lead, after legally mandated recounts. This is, however, the first of Elias’s suits filed in conjunction with a third party on behalf of incumbent Democratic senator Bill Nelson, rather than by Nelson’s campaign directly.

VoteVets is one of many super PACs on both sides of the political aisle to rely on so-called dark money by exploiting a loophole in election law. It technically operates as a 501-C(4) social-welfare nonprofit, which relieves it of the burden of identifying its donors, but practically engages in electioneering on a massive scale. In 2016 for example, it qualified as “the highest spending liberal nonprofit active in federal elections,” outpacing higher-profile outfits like NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Sierra Club, according to Open Secrets.

In explaining its interest in the case, VoteVets argued that a substantial number of Florida’s veterans could be disenfranchised due to forces outside their control should the court fail to intercede.

Elias, a former Clinton attorney retained by Nelson to litigate the ongoing recount, has also filed suit to validate mail-in ballots that were rejected because the signature on the ballot did not match the one already on record. Nelson trailed Governor Rick Scott, the Republican Senate candidate, by more than 50,000 votes on Election Night but that margin has shrunk to roughly 14,000 votes as Broward and Palm Beach Counties continued to report absentee mail-in ballots, triggering a recount under Florida law.

Judge Mark Walker, an Obama appointee who will hear the case, has ruled against the Scott administration on election-related issues in the past. He ruled in 2016 that officials must notify voters if signatures on their mail-in ballots did not match those on their registration forms, providing an opportunity to correct the error before the ballots were rejected. And earlier this year, he ordered state officials to overhaul the system for restoring felons’ voting rights, a decision that was later reversed by a federal appeals court.

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