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By Steve Kornacki

For the second time in 18 years, a pivotal election may be slipping away from Democrats in Florida thanks to an unlikely culprit: the design of a ballot.

That possibility now looms over the Senate contest after machine recounts were ordered Saturday in that race, as well as the battle for governor.

If a recount leaves the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Bill Nelson, on the wrong side of the ledger, Democrats will be left to grapple with a major issue in what is supposed to be one of their most reliable vote-producing counties.

Broward County, just north of Miami, is home to nearly 2 million people, making it one of the largest counties in America. For Democrats, it is also a vote-producing behemoth, typically accounting for more than 10 percent of all of the votes they receive statewide. Not surprisingly, based on the ballots counted from Broward so far, Nelson is crushing his Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, 69 percent to 31 percent.

But that’s where the ballot issue comes in. While there have been a lot of votes cast in Broward in the Senate race, there were more cast in the governor’s race. As of Saturday, the gap stood at about 26,000.

This means that on about 26,000 ballots, voters registered their choice in the governor’s race, which pitted Democrat Andrew Gillum against Republican Ron DeSantis, but not for Senate. That adds up to about 3.7 percent of all ballots cast in Broward. To put it mildly, that number is radically higher than anything found in any of Florida’s 66 other counties, where votes cast in the Senate and gubernatorial races have tracked about evenly.

Clearly, something is up in Broward — but what? The Nelson campaign’s attorney, Marc Elias, is suggesting that there is a machine issue that somehow resulted in votes from the Senate race not registering from some ballots. Broward’s election supervisor, Brenda Snipes, meanwhile, is insisting there is no technical issue. If there is one, the recount will presumably catch it.

But the other possibility here is one that will evoke long-suppressed unpleasant memories for Democrats of a certain age: Did the design of Broward’s ballot cause a small but critical chunk of voters to miss the Senate race?

There is some compelling evidence for this theory. A look at the Broward ballot shows that the Senate race occupies a lonely corner, buried in the left column under a lengthy set of instructions. The governor’s race, meanwhile, is perched prominently atop the middle column, with wide spacing between the names of all six candidates who qualified to run. There’s no question where the eye is more easily drawn.

Then there is this: On the Broward ballot, the Senate race is paired in that lower left column with one other contest, for the House. Broward contains parts of four congressional districts — all of them safely Democratic — so voters in different parts of the county had different House races on their ballots. But in one of those districts, Rep. Frederica Wilson’s 24th Congressional District, there was apparently no House race listed at all. That’s because Wilson was running unopposed and Florida law mandates that the race simply not appear on the ballot in such a case, with the sole candidate simply being deemed the winner.

Image: Broward County election protest
Protesters demonstrate outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office on Nov. 10, 2018 in Lauderhill, Florida.Joe Skipper / Getty Images

And, as political cartographer Matthew Isbell discovered, in the small portion of Broward County that is part of the 24th District, the number of ballots that contained no vote in the Senate race exploded. Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, also examined results from precincts around the county and found that the number of non-votes in the Senate race was significantly higher than the statewide average everywhere — and particularly in the 24th District.

These findings strongly suggest that a small share of Broward voters simply missed the Senate race. The consequences could be enormous.

If most of those 26,000 had voted in the Senate race, and if they’d done so at the 69 to 31 percent rate for Nelson seen countywide, Nelson would have earned a plurality of about 8,000 from them. Scott is leading by about 12,000 votes as of this writing, but if the final statewide margin is trimmed to less than 8,000 votes after the recount, the Broward ballot could have ended up being the difference.

This is trauma that Democrats in Florida — and across the country — are only too familiar with.

Back in 2000, when George W. Bush claimed the presidency with an official victory margin of 537 votes in Florida, it was the ballot of another giant and heavily Democratic county that helped to doom Democrats. Then, the culprit was Palm Beach County and its infamous “butterfly ballot,” which produced widespread confusion and a fateful anomaly, with Pat Buchanan receiving nearly four times as many votes in Palm Beach than in any other Florida county. Even Buchanan would later say that he believed the bulk of those 3,411 votes were intended for Al Gore.

There were, of course, other factors at play in Florida in 2000. Democrats maintain that a recount under a certain set of conditions would have given the state to Al Gore, while Republicans insist that the TV networks’ early call of the state for Gore — when polls were still open in the strongly Republican Panhandle region — led dejected Bush voters to go home without casting ballots. It’s impossible to pinpoint one factor that made all the difference.

But it’s also impossible for Democrats to forget that Palm Beach ballot, just as this year’s Broward ballot may end up etched into their memories forever.

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It all depends on what the meaning of ‘wall’ is…

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TRUMP AGENDA: It all depends on what the meaning of “wall” is…

Is President Trump going to get his border wall? Politico reports that depends on how you define a ‘wall.’

The Environmental Protection Agency is poised to roll back a rule restricting coal plant carbon emissions.

Despite President Trump’s recent criticism of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Republicans in Congress have Powell’s back.

The Chinese government released a vague statement about trade negotiations with the United States as the market continues to churn amid confusion about whether Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are close to an agreement to ease the trade standoff between the two countries.

THE DEM AGENDA: Liberals and 2020ers spar over Manchin committee post

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin looks poised to be the top Democrat on the Energy and National Resources Committee, a reality that isn’t sitting well with progressives and at least one Democrat weighing a presidential bid.

Democrats are crying foul as GOP-backed legislation aimed at stripping power from incoming Democratic statewide officials moves closer to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s desk. Just across Lake Michigan, Michigan Republicans are moving forward with similar legislation too.

Reuters reports that House Democrats are going to send transcripts from interviews with top Trump allies to special counsel Robert Mueller once they take the majority.

The Washington Post reports that Democrats, led by California Rep. Jared Huffman, want to nix a rule that allows lawmakers to bring their guns onto the U.S. Capitol grounds.

The Charlotte Observer has a deep dive into the election fraud investigation in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where journalists and investigators are trying to unravel a twisted web of absentee ballot fraud allegations.

2020: Did Warren’s DNA test backfire?

Allies of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren tell the New York Times that her decision to release the results of a DNA test to prove her Native American origins after years of criticism from Trump may have hurt her standing with progressives and minority groups.

An aide to California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris resigned on Wednesday amid a report uncovering a $400,000 harassment and retaliation settlement struck after allegations spanning his time working for Harris while she was the California attorney general.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the keeper of the state’s “First in the Nation” presidential primary, narrowly survived a tough reelection challenge on Wednesday.

Montana Dem Sen. Jon Tester may have gotten a bit out in front of his skis this week when he said that the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, will run for Senate in 2020. Tester’s chief of staff walked that back on Wednesday, saying Tester misheard the question. Bullock is seen to be considering a presidential bid.

Former Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick confirms Wednesday’s reports and officially takes his name out of the running for a 2020 bid, pointing to the “cruelty of our elections process” that would hurt his wife and loved ones.

During an interview with an Iowa radio station, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said he’d try to sell his company or put it in a blind trust if he ultimately decides to run for president and wins.

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Look who's cosying up to THE RICH! Socialist Corbyn touts for funds at swanky City dinner

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LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn has been pleading for funds at an elite gathering of the rich in his bid to take over the country.

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Here’s another example of how Trump’s business presents a clear conflict of interest

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — A week after special counsel Robert Mueller revealed that former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen was lying about the president’s business ties with Russia — that Trump & Co. were seeking deals with Russia well into June 2016 — comes another example of how Trump’s business presents a huge conflict of interest.

The Washington Post reports that lobbyists representing the Saudi government “reserved blocks of rooms at President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016 — paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post.”

“Those bookings have fueled a pair of federal lawsuits alleging Trump violated the Constitution by taking improper payments from foreign governments. During this period, records show, the average nightly rate at the hotel was $768. The lobbyists who ran the trips say they chose Trump’s hotel strictly because it offered a discount from that rate and had rooms available, not to curry favor with Trump. ‘Absolutely not. It had nothing to do with that. Not one bit,’ said Michael Gibson, a Maryland-based political operative who helped organize the trips.”

This report, of course, comes after Trump and members of his administration have insisted that there’s no direct evidence tying Saudi Arabia’s crown prince to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi – a claim that GOP and Dem lawmakers have disputed.

“There’s not a smoking gun — there’s a smoking saw,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi.”

Trump’s business — which he never fully separated from — paired with the actions he’s taken as either a presidential candidate or candidate remain one of the essential storylines of the Trump Era.

And it raises the question: What other countries have financial interests tied to the Trump’s businesses?

We’ve always assumed that Mueller’s investigation was much bigger than Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Is he also looking at what might be the biggest pay-to-play scheme in American history?

Trump’s isolation stands out at Bush funeral

Some sharp observations by the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker: “From the moment he crossed the transept of the soaring Washington National Cathedral, tore off his overcoat and took his seat in the front pew, President Trump was an outsider. When the others sang an opening hymn, his mouth did not move. When the others read the Apostles’ Creed, he stood stoically. And when one eulogist after another testified to George H.W. Bush’s integrity and character and honesty and bravery and compassion, Trump sat and listened, often with his lips pursed and his arms crossed over his chest.”

“Wednesday’s state funeral was carefully orchestrated to be about one man and his milestones — Bush the father, the friend, the war hero and the lifelong public servant. But inevitably it became about Trump, too, for it was impossible to pay tribute to the 41st president without drawing implicit contrasts with the 45th.”

NBC’s Jonathan Allen lists some of those contrasts. “Bush was described a loyalist (Trump calls former friends ‘horse face’ and ‘weak’); as a leader who worked with Democrats on budget deals and the Americans with Disabilities Act (Trump has governed on partisan terms and mocked a disabled reporter); as a president who rallied the world behind democratic values (Trump has spurned U.S. allies and enabled despots); and as a man who dedicated himself to a life of service (in life, Trump has unapologetically served his own interests first).”

Effort to weaken incoming Wisconsin governor’s power sent to Walker’s desk

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “After days of protests, hours of messy closed-door meetings and a heated overnight floor session, Republican lawmakers Wednesday sent a controversial set of lame-duck proposals to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker. The spotlight is now on the outgoing Republican governor, who will decide whether to sign the sweeping plans to limit early voting and diminish the powers of the Democrat who beat him last month.”

“Walker recently signaled he will sign the proposals before he leaves office in early January, but his spokeswoman on Wednesday did not respond to requests for an interview. Walker also could issue partial vetoes to at least two of the measures.”

GOP lawmakers in Michigan advance legislation to weaken Dem powers

“Republicans who control Michigan’s Legislature voted Wednesday to advance a measure that strips campaign-finance oversight power from the Democratic secretary of state-elect, and they were poised to give lawmakers authority to stand up for GOP-backed laws if they think the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general are not adequately defending the state’s interests,” per the AP.

Democrats help re-elect the bipartisan secretary of state in N.H.

As Republicans move to weaken the power of elected Democrats in Michigan and Wisconsin, New Hampshire Democrats — who won big in November — ended up helping re-elect the essentially bipartisan secretary of state instead of replacing him with a reliably liberal Democrat.

As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel tweeted:

Well, Gardner won, as NBC’s Mike Memoli notes.

This all highlights the central asymmetry in American politics: Republicans will fight to the death – even after they lose power — while Democrats are more open to compromise and bipartisanship, because they want government to work.



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