See update here.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, ruled against Republican Florida U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott on Thursday, thus extending a deadline for counting ballots. Walker mandated that Florida voters whose ballots were rejected because of signature mismatch should have the opportunity to verify their ballots. Walker thus gave 4,000+ voters until 5 p.m. on Saturday to verify their ballots did not fully satisfy Scott’s Democrat opponent Sen. Bill Nelson, either. “The precise issue in this case is whether Florida’s law that allows county election officials to reject vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for mismatched signatures — with no standards, an illusory process to cure, and no process to challenge the rejection — passes constitutional muster,” Walker ruled. “The answer is simple. It does not.”

Democrats had asked the judge to throw out the state’s signature match law. The number of the mail-in ballots in question is small. On Wednesday, the state provided data during a hearing that showed that 47 of Florida’s 67 counties reported only 3,781 ballots were rejected for mismatched signatures, including 467 in Orange County.

“There is no doubt that to run an election, the state must impose deadlines and rules to govern an efficient and transparent election process. There is no doubt that election officials must make certain calls, under the rules, that deserve review. And there is no doubt some of those calls may hinge on highly subjective factors,” Walker wrote. Local elections officials, particularly in Broward and Palm Beach counties, have come under fire for perceived mishandling of balloting procedures during the November 6 election. Also, Walker will preside over several other federal lawsuits filed by Nelson and Democrats. Walker wrote that the current situation in Florida has made the state the "laughing stock" of the world.

Once all the ballots are counted, Floridians will know who their state governor is and who their representative in the U.S. Senate is. Scott has already gone to Washington D.C. for orientation to the Senate.

Walker’s ruling affects some uncounted provisional and mail-in ballots in 45 of Florida’s 67 counties. Currently, state authorities are conducting a machine recount for several races that was scheduled to come to an end by 3 p.m. Thursday. If the tabulations for each of the candidates are within 0.5 percent of one another, Florida will have until 12 noon Sunday to do a hand recount. 

Sen. Nelson’s attorney declared victory on Thursday, tweeting: 

“Big victory in our Florida signature mismatch lawsuit! Federal court extends deadline for voters to ‘cure’ their rejected ballots until Saturday at 5 p.m. Per Court: ‘Disenfranchisement of approximately 5,000 voters based on signature mismatch is a substantial burden.’” 

Scott’s campaign plans to immediately appeal to the federal 11th Circuit Court  of Appeals what it regards as Judge Walker’s “baseless decision.” 

In addition to the U.S. Senate race, a recount is ongoing since Democrat gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum withdrew his concession to Republican candidate Ron DeSantis. On Twitter, President Donald Trump demanded that Florida call the races for Scott and DeSantis. He wrote: 

“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!” 
 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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