Nov. 19, 2018 — The state of Florida again has tight statewide campaigns in recount mode, reminiscent of the 2000 presidential campaign that saw George W. Bush winning the state by 537 votes that propelled him into the presidency. In that year, the recount and legal challenge process consumed 32 days.
In this election, the US Senate, governor, and agriculture commissioner races are all languishing with results that have yet to be finalized. Last Thursday, the 3 pm deadline for a statewide machine recount passed, and 66 of the state’s 67 counties successfully submitted new totals.
Palm Beach County was the lone electoral entity that was unable to complete the machine recount. Due to antiquated machines that broke down during the process, the county must redo all three statewide races and a state House contest that is fully contained within their jurisdiction.
There are more than 600,000 votes in the county, and all must be run again individually for each of the four races consecutively. Palm Beach is the only county in Florida using machines that cannot count multiple races simultaneously. Therefore, the recount will likely drag on here until late Sunday afternoon before new totals are released.
Here’s a snapshot of where things stand before that count comes through: After the machine counts, and including the Palm Beach original numbers that the county elections supervisor re-submitted because she had no updated information, Gov. Rick Scott (R) leads Sen. Bill Nelson (D) now by 12,603 votes, an increase of 47 votes after the machine recount in the 66 counties that successfully completed their verification process.
In the governor’s race, former US Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) had a 33,683-vote edge. The Ag commissioner’s contest is the closest of all. There, Democratic candidate Nikki Fried led her Republican opponent by just 5,307 votes statewide.
Under Florida election law, a race is automatically recounted if the results are within a half of a percentage point. All three of these campaigns fell within that range. If, after the machine recount, a race is within a quarter of a percent, a hand recount begins of all the contested ballots.
The Senate and agriculture commissioner races will proceed to the hand recount. The governor’s race will effectively be concluded after Palm Beach County finally reports its recounted results, and DeSantis will be the uncertified winner at that point. DeSantis’s opponent, Andrew Gillum, finally conceded, called DeSantis to congratulate him on his victory in the governor’s race, and made a speech conceding the race to him. (See his concession speech here: Tallahassee Democrat)
Lawsuits have been filed in various places, such as Palm Beach, Broward, and Bay Counties concerning outstanding ballots that so far have not been counted because they did not meet legal qualifications. The lawsuits will determine if these votes, which number in the thousands, will be re-examined.
For the Senate and Ag Commissioner races, three-member canvassing teams will now be comprised in each county to review all of the “over” and “under” votes. These ballots are where people did not fully check a particular name in one of the contests or voted for more than one candidate. The issue is particularly of note in Broward County where more than 24,000 voters did not vote in the Senate race even though that contest led the statewide ticket. The ratio of such Senate non-voters here is considerably higher than any other county.
Democrats maintain that one of two things happened to explain the Broward County situation. Either the machines did not properly record many votes for Senate, or because the ballot design placed the Senate race in the lower left-hand corner of the ballot, it may have been difficult for some people to locate. (See image immediately below.)
Therefore, most of the lawsuits cover the aforementioned issues and irregularities. The federal judge presiding over the seven filed suits, Mark E. Walker, an Obama appointee who is the Chief United States District Judge of the Northern District of Florida, has refused to extend the counting deadlines as Sen. Nelson had requested. The judge ruled that not enough information existed that warranted granting an extension anywhere but Palm Beach County.
Though the end result may have played out in the governor’s race, the legal wrangling in Florida is likely to go on for some time. Therefore, we can count on the other races continuing in political limbo for days, if not weeks.