Florida Election Updates: Judge Gives Voters Time to Fix Signature Problems as Thursday Deadline Looms

A federal judge Thursday morning ordered that 4,000 Florida voters with rejected ballots from signature discrepancies on mail-in and provisional ballots be granted two days to fix the problem, giving voters until Saturday at 5 p.m. to prove their identity.

The ruling came just hours before the 3 p.m. deadline for the statewide recount to be finished, making it unclear exactly how the judge's ruling would impact the recount process.

Thousands of ballots were rejected because voter's signatures did not match with what was on file at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The judge, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker, said roughly 4,000 ballots in 45 of the state's 67 counties had been denied and those voters should be given the chance to cure their ballots. Walker said the ruling only applied to those who were notified "belatedly" that their ballot was rejected, meaning the voters did not have the proper warning and time to fix the issue.

"Let this Court be clear: It is NOT ordering county canvassing boards to count every mismatched vote, sight unseen," Walker said in his ruling. "Rather, the county supervisors of elections are directed to allow those voters who should have had an opportunity to cure their ballots in the first place to cure their vote-by-mail and provisional ballots now, before the second official results are fully counted."

The issue in this case, Walker said, was whether Florida law allowing county election officials to reject ballots "with no standards, an illusory process to cure, and no process to challenge the rejection," passes constitutional muster.

"The answer is simple," Walker said. "It does not."

Florida Governor Rick Scott, the Republican who has declared victory over incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and taken to Capitol Hill—even though the election has yet to be called—vowed to immediately appeal the "baseless decision."

"Let's be clear," Scott's campaign press secretary Lauren Schenone said in a statement. "Bill Nelson's high-priced Washington lawyers went to court to argue against a process that they previously argued for."

Scott is not part of the lawsuit brought by Nelson and the Florida Democratic Party, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Florida Department of State are. The suit sought to force the state to throw out the signature match requirement altogether.

Florida Election Updates: Federal Judge Gives Voters Time to Fix Signature Problems as Thursday Deadline Looms
Election staff load ballots into a machine as recounting is underway at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office, in Lauderhill, Florida, on November 11. A federal judge Thursday ordered that 4,000 Florida voters with rejected ballots from signature discrepancies on mail-in and provisional ballots be granted until Saturday at 5 p.m. to prove their identity. Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images

Nelson's attorney handling the recount effort, Marc Elias, said in a statement that the judge's ruling was a "victory" for Florida voters and the Nelson campaign as they sought to make sure that "every legal ballot is counted." Elias believed that additional voters may have the chance to cure their ballots once larger counties, like Broward County, add their ballots to the pool that can be cured.

The recount process has been filled with legal challenges, machine malfunctions and claims of fraud. In addition, Palm Beach County has said that because of the poor condition of its election equipment, they will not be able to have their recount finished by the Thursday 3 p.m. deadline. On Tuesday, Nelson's campaign said it filed a federal lawsuit seeking to extend the deadline for all of the state's 67 counties.

Prior to the recount, Scott and Nelson were separated only by roughly 12,500 votes out of nearly 8.2 million ballots cast, or 0.15 percent. Florida law requires any statewide election with a margin of less than 0.50 percent to undergo a machine recount. If that recount shows the results are within 0.25 percent, a hand recount takes place to review undervotes and overvotes, ballots that were left uncounted by the machines because of a voter error when filling out the ballot.

The hand recount would be due at noon on Sunday and the statewide results are due to be certified on Tuesday. Scott said on Wednesday that, as governor, he planned to recuse himself from overseeing the results of his own election.

A recount is also currently underway for the governor's race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum. However, that race was not as tight as the Senate race. The two men were previously separated by roughly 33,600 votes of more than 8.2 million cast, or 0.41 percent.

This article has been updated to include a statement from the Nelson campaign.