Will three races in Florida - U.S. Senate, Governor, and Agriculture Commissioner - head to possible recounts?

Three races in Florida heading to possible recount

SARASOTA (WWSB/AP) - Under state law in Florida, a recount is mandatory if the winning candidate’s margin is 0.5 percentage points or less. If the statewide margin then falls below 0.25 percentage points, a manual recount will be ordered in each county.

Florida is now looking at three races - U.S. Senate, Governor, and Agriculture Commissioner - that may be heading to possible recounts. The margins in each are razor thin, but they continue to shift as additional ballots are counted.

As of Saturday morning, here’s what those races looked like:

Florida Governor

Republican Ron DeSantis led Democrat Andrew Gillum by 36,002 votes out of just over 8.2 million cast, or a difference of 0.44 of a percentage point.

Gillum conceded the race Tuesday night, but now his campaign is preparing for a possible state-mandated recount. In a statement, Gillum’s campaign says it underestimated the ballots that still needed to be counted when he conceded and is monitoring the situation.

U.S. Senate

Republican Rick Scott led Democrat Bill Nelson by 14,848 votes out of just over 8.1 million cast, or a difference of 0.18 of a percentage point.

Scott declared victory Tuesday night, but Nelson never conceded, issuing one statement saying his campaign was preparing for the recount. Scott’s campaign issued a statement saying, “This race is over. It’s a sad way for Bill Nelson to end his career. He is desperately trying to hold on to something that no longer exists.”

As additional votes were counted and a recount looked inevitable, Scott accused Nelson of trying to steal the election while Nelson accused Scott of trying to stop elections officials from counting every ballot. President Donald Trump has weighed in on behalf of Scott, calling the situation “a disgrace.”

Scott asked Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections departments in South Florida’s Democrat-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties after his lead narrowed in ballot-counting that continued through the week. However, a spokeswoman for the agency said Friday that there were no credible allegations of fraud; therefore, no active investigation.

The governor, meanwhile, filed lawsuits in both counties seeking more information on how their ballots were being tallied. Nelson filed his own federal lawsuit Friday, seeking to postpone the Saturday deadline to submit unofficial election results.

Judges sided with Scott in rulings late Friday ordering election supervisors in the two counties to release information on ballot-counting sought by the governor.

Meanwhile, the Broward Canvassing Board met Friday to review ballots that had been initially deemed ineligible. Lawyers from the campaigns, journalists and citizens crowded into a room to observe the proceedings.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner

Matt Caldwell and Nikki Fried
Matt Caldwell and Nikki Fried (Source: Twitter)

Democrat Nikki Fried now leads Republican Matt Caldwell by 3,120 votes out of just over 8 million cast, or a difference of 0.04 of a percentage point.

Caldwell declared victory Tuesday night when he led the race by more than 13,000 votes, but Fried never conceded. Now the race has flipped and Fried is in the lead.

So what happens in these races if there’s a recount?

The recount process is automatic unless a candidate agrees to forgo it. Counties have until Saturday to turn in their first set of unofficial returns.

“We had predicted that there would be a recount. We weren’t predicting three but we were predicting two [races],” said Mike Bennett, Manatee County Supervisor of Elctions.

Under state law in Florida, a recount is mandatory if the winning candidate’s margin is 0.5 percentage points or less. That will be determined this weekend by Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner after the canvassing boards in each of Florida’s 67 counties certify their returns. The recount, if ordered, would likely begin Monday.

The process, if it goes forward, will be different than the one that gained international notoriety in 2000, when the Supreme Court ordered an end to vote counting in Florida after a month, allowing Republican George W. Bush to claim the presidency with 537 votes.

At the time, each county had its own voting system. Many used punch cards — voters poked out chads, leaving tiny holes in their ballots representing their candidates. Some voters, however, didn't fully punch out the presidential chad or gave it just a little push. Those hanging and dimpled chads had to be examined by the canvassing boards, a lengthy and tiresome process that became fodder for late-night comedians.

Now, all Florida counties use ballots where voters use a pen to fill in a bubble next to their candidate's name, much like a student does when taking a multiple-choice test. When voters finish marking their ballots, they run them through a scanning machine that records the count. The ballot is stored inside the machine.

If the recount happens, each county will again run each Senate ballot through a scanner under the watchful eye of representatives of both sides. Ballots that cannot be read because they aren't marked or mismarked will be set aside.

“The machine is set up to where it reads both sides at the same time and reads them probably in a quarter of a second,” explained Bennett.

If the statewide margin then falls below 0.25 percentage points, Detzner will order a manual recount in each county.

“We need every day and hour at we can at this point because we had more than 200,000 ballots cast in Sarasota county so its quite the undertaking to do this,” said Ron Turner, Supervisor of Election for Sarasota County.

Rejected ballots will be examined by counting teams to determine if the voters' intentions were obvious. If either side objects to a counting team’s decision or the team can’t make a decision, the ballot will be forwarded to the county’s canvassing board, with the three members voting on the final decision. The members are the county supervisor of elections, a judge and the chair of the county commissioners.

“We’ve had a big job, and we have a big job ahead,” stated Turner.

The process will likely be finished in days.

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