Ah, Florida. We’ve been here before. We’ve seen recounts. We know what canvassing board chaos looks like.

We also recognize the accompanying contortions and backflips.

Count every vote! But this one, not that one.

Follow the law! Unless that law hurts me, in which case I’ll point you to another.
It’s the voter’s intent! But a judge determines it. Or a board. Whoever helps.

What a dizzying display of doublespeak. From the other side, of course, each side says.
Throughout it all, every campaign attempts to find pithy phrases that persuade the public that its candidate’s cause is right. That is not easy, especially because the playing field is not level. Too often, the media add a thumb onto the scale.

How many headlines last week carried Rick Scott’s clear and simple accusation of election fraud accompanied by a reference to Scott having cited no evidence? Lots. Good luck finding the same critical treatment for the exhortations of Bill Nelson. Or Andrew Gillum. Or anyone attacking conservatives or their policies.

The result is that messaging from the right is always more difficult. To succeed, especially with the casual observer, it must cut to the heart of the matter, sound fair, and if at all possible steer clear of language easily recast or punctured by unfriendly media.

So what exactly is the heart of the matter when it comes to fraud claims? Fraud is a loaded term with supporters, but alone it isn’t terribly persuasive to those not mired in the details. What kind of fraud is at stake? Not simply dead people voting, or people voting twice, or noncitizens voting at all. Any of those could be in play, or something else. Especially early on, we don’t know.

No, the overarching problem is this: when we know how many votes are needed to change the outcome before everyone has reported how many votes have been cast, mischief walks into the room like a cat that just stumbled upon an open birdcage.

You can’t hide how many ballots you’re holding until after you know how many votes someone needs to win. Even if the lead officials are honest, there are too many persons involved in the overall process to be sure honesty prevails.

If you’re a candidate, paint the picture with an alliterative phrase. Tell us the total, perhaps. No new votes. Or just echo your school teacher: Time’s up. Pencils down.
For the legislature, this area could be improved before 2020. Unify without exception the deadlines for the receipt of valid ballots, regardless of what method is used. Citizens responsible enough to vote can be responsible enough to vote on time. Perhaps also limit the release of voting results until all totals are reported. We can wait. If for any reason untimely arrivals are acceptable, require them to remain batched separately with verified histories, to be evaluated for legitimacy.

Going forward, finding votes late should be a thing of the past.

In a state less divided, bright line rules may be less important. Florida needs clarity, and voters should understand the system’s flaws and how it can be improved. Opportunities for fraud, or even worries of fraud, should be eliminated wherever possible. The stakes are too high.

Time’s up. Pencils down.

That might work.