Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade begins race to recount 800,000 ballots in three close Florida elections

How does an election recount work?

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.
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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.

Florida’s most populous county launched a recount Saturday afternoon for an estimated 813,000 ballots, after state officials ordered recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and agricultural commissioner.

Employees at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department began the process around 5 p.m. Saturday and will be working around the clock as they scramble to finish a machine recount of every ballot by the Nov. 15 deadline for submitting updated vote counts to the state. The first step is testing the machines for accuracy, which concluded after about an hour. The recount officially began at 5:50 p.m., as about a dozen workers began loading paper ballots into scanning machines for a marathon tabulation expected to take multiple days.

“This is a monumental task that no doubt will be done,” said Elections Supervisor Christina White.

White said she’s planning 24-hour shifts, at least initially, and that she had to order high-speed ballot counting machines from Omaha in order to meet the deadline. The county already owns nine high-speed machines.

The bins hold the “over votes” — ballots where the computer concluded a voter picked too many candidates — and “under votes” — ballots where the computer concluded the voter didn’t pick a candidate in at least once race. Those ballots will be scanned again, once the machines are programmed to ignore the over votes and under votes and tally votes from the remaining races.

Those results will constitute the machine recount that must be finished by 3 p.m. Thursday for the revised totals to be counted as Miami-Dade’s official results.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered the recounts after receiving unofficial vote counts from the state’s 67 elections departments by noon Saturday. The recounts were automatically triggered because vote totals in the races between Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, and Matt Caldwell and Nikki Fried were separated by less than half a percentage point.

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A group of activists protested in front of the Miami-Date Elections Department on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, demanding that all ballots from the county’s mid-term elections be counted. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

County elections staff weren’t the only people planning to work around the clock. Jaime Florez, a regional political director for the Rick Scott Senate campaign, had been waiting outside the elections department for hours with a team prepared to monitor the recount process. He said the campaign planned to have a representative at the office 24-7 until the recount is completed.

“I think this is very important for our community,” he said. “We have to make sure we have a fair election in Florida in every county.”

Stephen Cain, a lawyer representing the Democratic candidates, said he also had a team of volunteers ready to monitor the recount. He said they were prepared to have someone at the county election department until Nov. 15, although he didn’t think the recount would last that long in Miami-Dade.

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Miami-Dade County Election department staff members work on the recount process at the elections department in Doral on Saturday November 10, 2018 Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

The recount process in Miami-Dade and throughout South Florida is likely to receive intense scrutiny. Late returns in South Florida shrank the leads Republicans had over their Democratic opponents in the races for Senate and governor and put Fried ahead of Caldwell in the contest for state agriculture commissioner.

On Saturday morning, several dozen protesters gathered outside the Miami-Dade county elections department to demand that all ballots — including those found sitting inside a mail sorting facility in Opa-locka — be counted.

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.

White said late Saturday afternoon that the ballots found at the Opa-locka facility would not be counted because they arrived after the Election Day deadline. Saturday night, a department spokeswoman revealed there 266 mail-in ballots received that morning from the federal Opa-locka facility.

Former Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard, political director of The New Florida Majority and one of the protest organizers, said he believed some of the ballots had been mailed and received by the Opa-locka facility well before the deadline. He said he worries that if voters lose confidence in the electoral process, they may not vote in future elections.

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A group of activists protested in front of the Miami-Date Elections Department on Saturday November 10, 2018, demanding that all ballots be counted, included some found at an Opa-locka mail facility. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

“The problem is that if people feel as though their vote doesn’t count and they feel as though something is awry, they’re going to be less likely to want to participate in it,” he said.

Bullard said the uncertainty of the situation felt “eerily similar” to the contested 2000 presidential election.

“You would think in 18 years that we would have fixed that problem, but the idea that we’re still standing here in 2018 dealing with votes that haven’t been counted is troubling,” he said.

Protester Sue Brogan, 71, a Gillum supporter, said she just wanted election results she could trust, regardless of whether her candidate ended up winning.

“Whoever wins needs the credibility behind them,” she said. “I’ll accept defeat if it’s fairly counted, fairly processed and everybody’s vote was counted.”

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