Washington - There is fraud in Florida’s U.S. Senate race.
Mitch McConnell just perpetrated it.
Florida has still not certified a winner in the contest between Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott. Elections officials are recounting the vote after the initial tally showed the two separated by a mere 13,000 votes of some 8 million cast.
But the Senate majority leader, re-elected to that position by his colleagues Wednesday, decided not to trouble himself with such technicalities. On Wednesday morning, he stood by Scott's side in the Capitol and declared Scott a senator. "We're here this morning to welcome our six new Republican senators that allowed us to continue our majority," the Kentucky Republican said, introducing Scott and the five new duly elected Republican senators to the press.
"Governor Scott," CNN's Ted Barrett called out. "Do you still contend that there's fraud going on in Florida with this recount?"
Scott, the current Florida governor, forced a thin smile and looked away. McConnell's lips curled into a smirk. Aides shooed the cameras and journalists from McConnell's office; the coming-out photo op for the new "senator" was done.
Scott has leveled the stunning accusation, without evidence, that "Nelson is trying to commit fraud to win this election." He has said his Democratic opponent, a three-term senator, is "just here to steal this election."
President Trump, seeing opportunity to trash another American institution, joined in, saying, also without evidence, that ballots are "missing or forged" and
"massively infected." He said officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties are trying to "find" votes for Nelson.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is under Scott, has "no active investigation" of fraud. The Florida Department of State, also under Scott, has seen "no evidence of criminal activity." A Broward County judge, rejecting Scott's request to impound voting machines, said those alleging fraud must provide evidence.
But there is abundant evidence of something: an antiquated voting system that can't keep up. In Palm Beach, the elections supervisor said its outdated equipment overheated, causing figures to not add up as it attempts to meet the recount deadline of Thursday. Equipment problems in Broward also delayed the recount.
There is deep cynicism in Republicans complaining about the lengthy recounts and, worse, suggesting fraud is the cause: They voted down funds for updated voting equipment for states. Senate Republicans on Aug. 1 blocked Sen. Patrick J. Leahy's (D-Vt.) plan to send $250 million to states for cybersecurity and "replacing outdated election equipment." A few weeks later, the bipartisan Secure Elections Act stalled in the Senate, in part because "we didn't have the level of Republican support we needed," Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said.
The $380 million Congress has authorized amid the Russian hacking (the first substantial funding since the aftermath of the 2000 election) is but a sliver of the $1 billion to $2 billion it would cost to get states' voting systems up to date, according to Lawrence Norden of New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.
Last week’s voting problems — in Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan and New York, as well as Florida — are a direct result of Washington’s neglect. “You can’t have it both ways,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos tells me. “You can’t scream about all the delays we’re having while also not stepping up and providing the resources we need.”
But Republicans prefer to scream "fraud" when the voting systems they starved inevitably break down. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined Scott and Trump, saying Democrats are trying "to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate." McConnell pronounced himself "concerned."
McConnell continues to rival Trump in the harm he's doing to the institutions of democracy. He destroyed the campaign-finance system, using legislation and lawsuits to build the current era of unlimited dark money. He destroyed the last vestiges of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate with his year-long stall of Merrick Garland and his use of the "nuclear option" to seat two Supreme Court justices. Now, he is thwarting efforts to sustain the integrity of the nation's voting systems — and then, when it inevitably fails, exploiting the failure to his advantage.
Maybe Scott will win when all the votes are counted. But, as Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times observed Tuesday, even if Nelson wins, "it is not unthinkable that Republicans would consider using their majority power in the Senate to refuse to seat Mr. Nelson and to give the seat to Mr. Scott instead."
As if on cue, McConnell on Wednesday morning declared Scott a new Republican senator — before bothering to learn the outcome of the election.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.
(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group