As soon as Republican Rick Scott’s lead in the Florida senate race started to evaporate, conspiracy theories about voter fraud began to emerge on the right. Thursday night, the man who currently serves as governor and also happens to be a candidate in the race announced a lawsuit against two election judges claiming “rampant voter fraud.” Later that night he was a guest on Sean Hannity’s show and nodded in agreement as the host talked about obvious corruption and suggested that people need to go to jail.
Sean Hannity just said "somebody needs to go to jail" for trying to count all the votes in Florida pic.twitter.com/uoWyiovfHq
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) November 9, 2018
All of that happened without one shred of evidence.
Scott’s lawsuit, which was filed in his capacity as a candidate, alleges that Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher violated public records law by refusing to “release details on voting tabulations and hindering the processing of absentee ballots, respectively,” the Herald adds.
Scott merely raised suspicion that delays in counting ballots are due to misconduct — he didn’t present any evidence that it actually occurred.
Brian Fallon suggested that this presents a test for major media outlets.
The coverage of the Florida Senate race is going to be a test of the mainstream media's ability to sort out bad-faith conspiracy theories intended to whip up the Fox News crowd into a frenzy. Let's hope they do better here than they did on the caravan.
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) November 9, 2018
Some of them are already failing. Here’s how CBS tweeted the news:
As Florida heads toward a machine recount for the Senate and gubernatorial races, prominent Republicans are alleging voter fraud by Democrats trying to create new votes for their candidates https://t.co/Jg0PahWrwl pic.twitter.com/ykrdJriGOl
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 9, 2018
If you click on the article they linked to, the second sentence says, “Republicans have not cited any evidence to back up their accusations.” It certainly seems that they should have included something to that effect in the tweet.
The headline at the New York Times reads: “Rick Scott Cites Rampant Fraud in Florida, as Senate and Governor Races Tighten.” Nowhere do they mention the fact that Scott failed to provide any evidence of “rampant fraud.”
To demonstrate how a story like this should be handled, I’m frankly surprised to find that Politico is at the head of the class with their article titled, “Trump, without evidence, accuses Democrats of ‘election theft’ in Florida Senate race.” Here’s their opening paragraph:
President Donald Trump fired off a series of agitated tweets on Friday about the looming Florida recount, alleging “election theft” in the Senate race and suggesting without evidence that Democrats were falsifying votes to undermine GOP candidates.
Keep an eye on this as your peruse the headlines over the next few days. Noting evidence of irregularities in how votes are cast and counted is an important function of the media. But when Republicans make up voter fraud allegations out of whole cloth in an effort to stop the process of counting votes, that is nothing short of an attempt to steal an election, which is how fact-based journalists should report this story.