Florida Democrats’ Top Election Lawyer Elias Has Controversial History

November 14, 2018 Updated: November 14, 2018

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson’s reelection campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Committee filed a federal lawsuit on Nov. 13 to dispense with the state’s recount deadlines, the latest move in the three-term incumbent’s attempt to stave off an election loss to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

A day earlier, a separate lawsuit was filed to allow almost 875,000 late absentee ballots to be counted, citing voter disenfranchisement. If successful, the suit might not only deliver the disputed Senate seat, but overturn the results of the state’s narrowly decided gubernatorial race, which ended with progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum conceding to Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis. Gillum recently rescinded his concession, as the margin in that race has narrowed enough to trigger a recount.

In both cases, the lead attorney is Marc Elias, the Washington-based chairman of the political law group at the power-firm of Perkins Coie.

Elias’s clients include the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, House Majority PAC, Senate Majority PAC, Priorities USA, Emily’s List, more than 40 Democratic senators, and more than 100 Democratic House members.

Elias was also the general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and personally retained the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, according to The Washington Post. Fusion GPS then hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who produced the infamous opposition research dossier of unsubstantiated claims about President Donald Trump.

In congressional testimony earlier this year, ousted FBI Director James Comey referred to the Steele dossier as being both “salacious and unverified.” The FBI, under Comey, nevertheless used the dossier to secured a surveillance warrant to spy on former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.

Elias and a team of allied lawyers descended on Florida after polls closed on Nov. 6, to address the close elections for U.S. Senate and governor in the all-important 2020 presidential swing state. His presence was not lost on the president.

“As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes. Don’t worry, Florida— am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Nov. 9.

On Nov. 10, Trump wrote that the Elias-led effort was “trying to steal two big elections in Florida.”

As of the evening of Nov. 13, DeSantis had a 33,084 vote lead over Gillum, down from more than 77,000 on election night. Scott led Nelson by 12,562 votes out of 8.184 million ballots cast, or less than 0.015 percent. Scott had a 57,000-vote lead on election night, but the margin of victory dwindled amid extended vote counting and allegations of fraud in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

After Florida’s other 66 counties submitted their election results, including hurricane-ravaged counties in the Florida panhandle and the state’s largest county of Miami-Dade, Broward continued producing Democratic votes by the tens of thousands.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who hails from South Florida, unleashed a bevy of Twitter messages expressing alarm over the Broward irregularities. “5 days after last early vote was cast they remain ONLY county which still has not completed its early vote count,” Rubio tweeted.

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes also included illegal ballots in a batch of provisional ballots she submitted to an area canvassing board for inspection. A Broward election employee filed an affidavit about witnessing Snipes’s staff filling in blank ballots during the 2016 election.

Controversy isn’t new for Snipes. In May, a federal judge ruled she illegally destroyed ballots cast in a 2016 congressional race involving Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was the DNC chair at the time. The ballots were crucial to a pending recount lawsuit filed by Wasserman Schultz’s challenger Tim Canova.

In neighboring Palm Beach County, Elias authorized a subordinate attorney to object even to the invalidation of a ballot cast by a non-citizen. Elias later acknowledged that non-citizens can’t vote in federal elections, which is a felony.

Florida law mandates that any election decided by 0.5 percent or less must go to a recount. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered a machine recount for the Nelson-Scott and Gillum-DeSantis races with a deadline of 3 p.m. on Nov. 15. If any race ends up with a margin under 0.25 percent, a manual recount will follow with a deadline of 3 p.m. on Nov. 18.

Palm Beach County already said it won’t meet the Nov. 15 deadline. It is unclear if the Democratic stronghold of Broward County will, which may or may not be part of a strategy. Elias is suing to lift the recount deadlines, arguing that they are “arbitrary” and “impose a severe burden…on the right to vote.”

Delaying the deadlines would buy time for another lawsuit to develop, which could allow hundreds of thousands of late and invalid absentee ballots to be counted.

Elias wants all ballots postmarked before Nov. 6 to be counted if they were received within 10 days of the election. “Florida’s 7 p.m. Election Day receipt deadline for vote by mail ballots burdens the right to vote of eligible voters,” the suit says.

Elias, whom The Washington Post calls a “Democratic superlawyer with multimillion-dollar backing” from liberal billionaire George Soros, has a successful history of winning close elections through the courts, sometimes with dubious results.

In 2008, Elias sued in Minnesota over the results of a U.S. Senate race where incumbent Republican Norm Coleman narrowly defeated Democrat Al Franken. The election was certified eight months after election day, with Franken winning a manual recount by 312 votes.

Franken went on to become the 60th Democratic senator in a filibuster-proof majority that delivered the mammoth Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. It was later shown that 1,099 felons may have illegally voted.

On Nov. 12, the Miami Herald said that of 26 major races that went to recounts nationwide since 2000, only three had their initial election results overturned. Elias responded by taking credit for two of them.

“Perhaps the article should have noted that in two of the three recounts where the outcomes changed in a recount, we were the lawyers for the winners,” he said.