Broward County

Machine glitches delay the start of ballot recount in Broward County by hours

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, left, and Broward County Judge Betsy Benson of the election canvassing board, listen to arguments, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, at the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill.
Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, left, and Broward County Judge Betsy Benson of the election canvassing board, listen to arguments, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, at the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill. AP

Broward County’s election woes continued Sunday morning as a series of technical glitches delayed for hours the scheduled recount of more than 700,000 ballots cast in the midterm election.

The recount, scheduled to begin at 7 a.m., finally got going — sort of — at 11:23. But officials said no actually counting would begin for hours and possibly days.

Instead, the machines were sorting ballots. Broward County ballots ran between four and seven pages, depending on the city, for a total of around 3.5 million pages.

But all seven races being recounted were on the first page. Until sometime Monday evening, the counting machines will do nothing but pluck out those pages, to be counted afterward.

The earlier four-hour-plus delay was triggered by a series of glitches in the testing of the 10 counting machines. The “logic and accuracy” tests were intended to make sure the machines were starting from zero and recording ballots accurately.

But they failed repeatedly as election official grew tight-lipped and attorneys for various parties and candidates launched catcalls.

Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, whose oversight of the election has come under attack by various critics, including about 70 protesters gathered outside the Lauderhill site where the recount is taking place, sat mostly quiet and expressionless as the delays dragged on.

When officials announced that the Republican and Democratic parties each could send one “technical expert” into the room where the tests were being conducted, Fort Lauderdale attorney Mitchell Berger, a prominent Democrat but with no known background at Apple or Microsoft, loudly announced: “I use a computer. I’m going back.”

As he began to enter the counting room, Berger was greeted with a chorus of “Ooooo, nooo!” from Republican attorneys and election officials alike. What looked like a potential confrontation was defused when Democratic Party officials quickly designated Berger their official “expert.”

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“It’s OK,” one disgruntled Republican shouted as Berger walked into the counting room. “You won’t know what you’re seeing, anyway.”

When Berger returned, he said with elaborate flair that, “They’re doing a good job and they’re working hard.”

“You mean the elections board staff?” interjected one of the officials. When Berger confirmed it, Republican attorney William Scherer widened his eyes in mock concern. “You don’t include the canvassing staff?” he asked.

“Them, too,” Berger replied. “They’re doing a good job. And so are you, Bill.”

The needling paused for an official announcement that Broward was getting some help in the form of two more counting machines that had been headed for Orlando but were diverted south, for arrival sometime Monday morning. But the ceasefire looked extremely temporary.

The news that both political parties agreed the recount was going smoothly and legally — delivered by Berger to a crowd largely made up of right wing protesters outside the office Sunday afternoon— was met with laughter and jeers.

“Yeah right,” one man sneered. “He’s a comedian!”

On Saturday, the razor-thin margins in the races of U.S. Senate, agriculture commissioner and the governor’s race caused Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to order mandatory machine recounts in all three statewide races after all counties submitted their unofficial results by noon.

The state’s 67 elections departments have just five days to recount more than 8.2 million combined ballots cast over an entire month leading up to Tuesday’s midterms. Berger said Broward’s recount is estimates to take 80 to 90 hours.

On Sunday, the numbers remained tight.

In the race for U.S. Senate, Gov. Rick Scott leads U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson by 12,562 votes, a difference of 0.15 percent. In the race for governor, U.S. Rep Ron DeSantis leads Tallahassee Mayor by 33,684 votes, a difference of 0.41 percent. And in the notably close race for agriculture commissioner, Fort Lauderdale attorney and lobbyist Nicole “Nikki” Fried leads Rep. Matt Caldwell by 5,326 votes, a difference of 0.06 percent.

Florida law requires an automatic recount in a race in which the difference in vote totals is half a percent or less. The law requires a manual recount if the difference in the vote totals is 1/4 of a percent or less.

Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Samantha J. Gross contributed to this report.

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