Election Day Recounts and Lawsuits

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 9, 2018 — Political overtime action is occurring in three states as very close elections for US Senate and governor still appear to be a long way from concluding.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) lead over Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has dwindled to just over 15,000 votes as more and more mail ballots are counted. Now further controversy has arisen in Broward County, which is reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election that required 32 days and a US Supreme Court ruling to decide.

In this current instance, people are calling into question why there were 24,000-plus fewer votes cast in the US Senate race, which led the Florida ticket, than the other contests on the Broward County ballot. Democrats are suggesting the ballot design that placed the office on the lower left side is the a primary reason for the large drop-off and argue that the counting machines are not detecting marks made on individual ballots. Broward County election officials say they can only count what the machine reads.

Gov. Scott held a news availability last night to accuse the Democrats of attempting to “steal the election.” He is suing elections supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach County over their failure to meet certain legal deadlines in ballot counting and reporting and, in his capacity as governor, is ordering the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the situation.

The vote count change is also affecting the governor and commissioner of agriculture elections as well as the US Senate contest. All three have dropped within the half-percentage point margin that automatically triggers a recount. It is likely that all three contests will be recounted once a final vote is determined. Therefore, we can expect weeks of legal and administrative wrangling before these highly important elections are decided.

In Arizona, similar controversy is arising. With more than 450,000 ballots remaining to count in the US Senate race, local Republican county officers from Maricopa, Apache, Navajo, and Yuma counties are suing election officials in Maricopa, Pima, and Coconino counties over their process of “curing” absentee or mail ballots where the envelope signature appears different than what is on file. In such an instance, the election officials attempt to contact the individual to verify that he or she did cast the ballot.

At the focal point of the dispute are 3,000-plus ballots that were dropped at an “emergency vote center” in Maricopa County. The Republicans are suing because there is no uniform process for all of the counties to follow as it relates to verifying mail ballots.

The first announced post-election count included 24,000-plus votes from Democratic Pima County, heretofore, not tabulated in the previously released county totals. Their inclusion gave Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema a 9,610 statewide vote lead over Republican Rep. Martha McSally in the congresswomen’s bid to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R). Totals will be announced at the end of every counting day so long as ballots remain.

The Georgia governor’s race is also in political overtime but under different circumstances. There is no doubt that Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) will finish ahead of former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) when the tabulation process concludes, but Georgia has a nuance in its election law. The state requires that all winning general election candidates obtain majority support. If not, a post-election run-off election is held.

Therefore, while Kemp’s percentage has dropped to 50.3 percent with more votes to count, Abrams is continuing the fight in hopes that he will fall below 50 percent. Such an occurrence would necessitate advancing to a secondary election on Dec. 4.

Yesterday, Kemp declared victory in the governor’s race and resigned his position as secretary of state. Complaints around the counting of provisional ballots and certain absentee votes are being levied from various sources, which is typical in these types of close contests.

Georgia’s 7th Congressional District race is also undecided. Here, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville) leads former state House Budget Committee staff director Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 890 votes with ballots still remaining to be counted. Since only the two candidates are in this race, a run-off will not occur since the winner, by definition, would receive a majority vote regardless of the final margin.

We can expect these races in the three states to drag on for some period before final tallies are rendered. In the Senate campaigns, it is possible the situation could end with a fight within the full body over whether to seat the eventual declared winner.

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