Recounts in three hotly contested Florida statewide elections are underway. Recounts by machine have begun in all of Florida’s sixty-seven counties in the Governor, Senate and Agriculture Commissioner’s races.
Results released on Saturday showed Republican Gov. Rick Scott leading incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson by 0.15 percentage points in the Senate race, Republican Ron DeSantis leading Tallahassee Mayor Democrat Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points in the governor’s race and Democrat Nikki Fried ahead of Republican Matt Cladwell by 0.06 percentage points in the agriculture commission race.
Under Florida law the recounts must be completed by 3 p.m. Thursday. If they are not, the results reported Saturday will stand. There is uncertainty as to whether all sixty-seven counties in Florida will be meet that deadline.
Yesterday election officials from Miami-Dade County, the state’s largest, reported being about halfway through the recount of their ballots. A reported 800,000 ballots were cast in Miami-Dade.
But in neighboring Broward County a different scene is unfolding. As of yesterday afternoon election officials there were still separating out ballots. Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes had said as of yesterday morning some workers were beginning the machine recount process while others were separating the ballots.
Snipes said she is “very optimistic” the recount in the state’s second-largest county would be completed in time. “We haven’t had to do this in a while, anything this big, I think we did (well),” Snipes said. “The machines did well, the workers seem comfortable with what they are doing.”
More than 700,000 ballots were cast in Broward.
Nelson’s campaign filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday calling for an extension of the deadline for recounting votes in the Senate race. The suit calls for election officials all over the state to be given the time they need to complete their recounts, however long.
When “every legal ballot is counted, we’ll win this election,” Nelson has said.
The Scott campaign has filed a number of lawsuits alleging fraud and abuse on the part of some election officials statewide. He along with other Republicans, including state Attorney General Pam Bondi have accused Broward as well as Palm Beach county officials of failing to follow state law while counting votes.
While the state elections department and FDLE have said they found no evidence of voter fraud anywhere in the state, a judge last week found Snipes had violated Florida open records laws by failing to quickly provide voting records to attorneys for the Scott campaign.
Asked about that yesterday Snipes said she believes “it is time to move on.”
Snipes’ tenure as Broward County election head as not been without controversy. Earlier this year a judge found she broke election law when she destroyed ballots last year from a 2016 congressional primary race without waiting the required 22 months.
Also in 2016, a medical marijuana amendment did not appear on some Broward ballots, and a week after the election in 2012, about 1,000 uncounted ballots were suddenly discovered.
Snipes has served as the Broward County election head since 2003 when she was appointed by then-Governor Jeb Bush. Bush tweeted this week that Snipes should be removed from office following the recounts.
“People are going to scream fraud no matter what,” said Eugene Pettis, an attorney for Snipes.
“It takes time to go through those ballots. It should not be missed on anyone that state law permits until 12 o’clock four days after the election to submit your preliminary results. If it didn’t take up to four days, the law wouldn’t have put that in there,” he added.
Manual recounts will not involve a one-by-one hand recount of each of the more 8 million votes cast in the state. Instead, they will include examinations of ballot machines read as having “overvotes” or “undervotes” in the respective races.
An overvote is when a stray mark such as an extra pen mark causes a tabulation machine to register an overvote. In such a case, if the voter’s intent can be ascertained by examining the ballot, the vote is counted.
An undervote is when no vote in a particular race is read by a machine. Like overvotes, undervotes are sometimes caused by voters improperly filling out ballots. As with overvotes if a voters’ intent can be ascertained by examining the ballot, their vote is counted.
According to the latest tallies there are approximately 25,000 fewer votes cast in the Senate race than in the governor’s race in Broward County. Nelson’s campaign believes that is where they can make up ground.
Nelson’s campaign believes machine errors could have likely caused those undervotes in the Senate race. But other election observers believe ballot design could have played a role. The Florida Senate race was placed in the bottom left corner of the ballot in Broward County, below a long list of voter instructions. That placement may have caused voters to overlook the race.
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr