Florida races head to recounts

Three statewide races in Florida are heading for recounts after a key deadline for county election officials to submit unofficial vote tallies came and went Saturday.

The first round of machine recounts, which must be completed by Thursday, sets up a bitter fight to the finish in Florida’s races for Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner.

It also drew parallels to the state’s controversial recount fight between former President George W. Bush and Democrat Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreEx-Bush strategist: Count all the votes in Florida, don’t repeat mistakes of 2000 MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace: ‘We may have misrepresented the ease with which Gillum is going to win’ Army gets it right with Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson MORE in the 2000 presidential election. The Supreme Court eventually intervened in that dispute, halting the recount and handing the White House to Bush.

The most closely watched recount is the Senate race between incumbent Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDozens of mail-in ballots sitting in Miami distribution center: report Election Countdown: Arizona Senate race still too close to call | Florida vote tally fight heats up | Trump calls for Abrams to ‘move on’ Nelson releases video: ‘Rick Scott is trying to stop all the votes from being counted’ MORE (D-Fla.) and Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who currently carries a narrow lead of roughly 12,500 votes — about 0.15 points.

In Florida, an automatic machine recount is triggered if two candidates are within 0.5 points of one another. If the candidates are within 0.25 points of one another after that machine recount is conducted, a hand recount is triggered.

Sarah Revell, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of State, confirmed on Saturday that Secretary of State Ken Detzner (R) had ordered recounts in the three races.

“The first unofficial set of returns for the U.S. Senate, Governor and Commissioner of Agriculture races has met the statutory threshold to trigger a machine recount,” Revell said in an email. “As required under Florida law, a statewide machine recount has been ordered by the Secretary of State.”

The Senate race spiraled into a series of legal fights this week after Scott and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed lawsuits against election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties — both Democratic strongholds where vote counts continued to trickle in after Election Day.

Two judges handed Scott key legal wins in those cases on Friday. In Broward, Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ordered the county’s supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, to turn over voter information, including how many people cast ballots and how many votes remained to be counted.

Meanwhile, in Palm Beach, Judge Krista Marx ordered the county supervisor of elections, Susan Bucher, to release certain ballots that had been deemed defective to the canvassing board for final review.

Nelson’s campaign and the Democratic Executive Committee filed a lawsuit of their own on Friday against Detzner. 

That lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tallahassee, sought a uniform set of standards for canvassing boards to use to evaluate provisional ballots, as well as to postpone the noon Saturday deadline for counties to submit unofficial results to the state Division of Elections until after the case was heard.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle declined to postpone the Saturday deadline. He scheduled a hearing on the lawsuit’s challenge to how provisional ballots are evaluated for Wednesday.

The Senate race has prompted dueling accusations from Republicans and Democrats.

Scott and his allies have raised the prospect of fraud in the ballot-counting process in Broward and Palm Beach, with the governor calling on Saturday for Florida sheriffs to “watch for any violations during the recount process.”

Scott took the unprecedented step this week of asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate election officials in Broward and Palm Beach, though he spoke only in his capacity as a Senate candidate, rather than as governor.

Both the FDLE and the Florida Department of State confirmed to The Hill that it has not yet launched an investigation, because it has not received credible allegations of elections fraud or criminal activity.

Revell said that the department had sent two observers to Broward County earlier this year to monitor the elections. So far, no evidence of fraud or criminal activity has emerged, she said.

“Department observers continue to monitor the administration of the election through the certification of results,” Revell said in an email. “Our staff has seen no evidence of criminal activity at this time.”

Meanwhile, Nelson and Democrats have accused Scott of trying to prevent lawfully cast votes from being counted, arguing that a recount is necessary to ensure accuracy in the election results.

“We have every expectation the recount will be full and fair and will continue taking action to ensure every vote is counted without interference or efforts to undermine the democratic process,” Nelson said in a statement on Saturday.

“We believe when every legal ballot is counted we’ll win this election.”

The race for Florida governor is also heading to a recount after unofficial results showed Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDozens of mail-in ballots sitting in Miami distribution center: report Florida prepares for bitter legal fight over votes Trump criticizes vote count in Arizona MORE separated by roughly 0.41 points.

Gillum conceded to DeSantis on Tuesday after returns showed him trailing by 1 point. But as new vote totals came in from Broward and Palm Beach on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, DeSantis’s lead dropped considerably, putting the race in recount territory.

In an address to the media in Tallahassee on Saturday afternoon, Gillum accused President TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-White House counsel interviewed Whitaker about joining Trump’s legal team: report Flake slams Trump for doubting Arizona vote count: No evidence of ‘electoral corruption’ Comey talked about sensitive FBI matters on personal email: report MORE, Scott and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioScarborough: GOP trying to stop vote count in Florida is ‘third-world country stuff’ Teacher says she discovered ballot box left behind at Florida polling site White House-Acosta feud is talk of town MORE (R-Fla.) of trying to stop the vote count in Florida because they did not like the direction it was moving.

“That is not Democratic and that is certainly not the American way,” Gillum said. “In America, we count every vote regardless of what the outcome might be.”

“My fate in this may or may not change,” he continued. “What I do know is every single Floridan who went out to cast their vote…deserves the comfort of knowing that in a democratic society and in this process every vote will be counted.”

He said that his campaign had dispatched hundreds of volunteers and lawyers across the state to monitor the recount process and “ensure a fair and accurate count.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the recounts had begun. Barry Richardson, a lawyer for Gillum, said Saturday afternoon that the recount was underway. County supervisors of election must first provide public notice to the state of a recount, and a public test of the tabulating equipment must occur.

The race for agriculture commissioner is also headed for a recount. Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell are separated by a scant 0.06 percentage points — a little more than 5,300 votes.

While that race hasn’t drawn the outsize national attention that Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial races have, agriculture commissioner is an influential, Cabinet-level position in the state with sweeping responsibilities. 

Caldwell followed in Scott’s footsteps on Friday, filing his own lawsuit against Snipes, asking that a court determine whether she illegally counted ballots received after polls closed on Tuesday.

Results of a machine recount must be submitted by 3 p.m. on Nov. 15, at which point a hand recount could be triggered and would have to be completed by Nov. 18. Final statewide results are set to be certified on Nov. 20.

A manual recount does not mean that each individual ballot is tallied by hand – only so-called “overvotes” and “undervotes.” An overvote is when a person marks more than the maximum amount of selections available on a ballot, while an undervote means that an individual did mark selections for each contest on the ballot.

Still, the state-mandated deadlines are likely to leave local election officials scrambling to finish up recounts.

Nelson’s attorney, Marc Elias, said Friday that he was confident that a recount would swing the race in the three-term senator’s favor, telling reporters in a conference call that he does not make such predictions lightly. Elias said that if a hand recount happens, Nelson will see a jump in the polls.

“I am not always optimistic about the chances of Democrats to take the lead,” he said in a conference call on Saturday. “But based on what I know about Florida … I think that we are going to continue to see this race tighten.”

But recounts rarely change the course of statewide races, said Barry Edwards, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. While Nelson could stand to gain some votes in a recount, it’s unlikely to be enough to propel him to a fourth term in the Senate.

“I’m not aware of any statewide or national election result changing from a recount,” Edwards said. “That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened before. But just from a recount of ballots, I’m not aware of any final outcomes changing.”

Out of the 4,687 statewide general elections in the U.S. that occurred between 2000 and 2015, only 27 have gone to recounts, according to FairVote, which advocates for non-partisan redistricting.

On average, the change in vote share amounts to about 0.016 percentage points, said Ryan Tyson, the vice president of political operations for Associated Industries of Florida. If history is any indicator, that bodes well for Scott and DeSantis.

– Updated 3:31 p.m.

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