Florida Governor Rick Scott has likely been reelected to a second term.
Scott, who turns 62 next month, becomes only the second Republican governor in state history, along with Jeb Bush, to win back-to-back terms. In one respect, he’ll be even more powerful than Bush because Republicans on Tuesday won supermajority control of the Florida House. The GOP also controls the state Senate.
Scott, who turns 62 next month, defeated former Governor Charlie Crist. Polls showed the race would be tight, and it was. Scott was clinging to a 1 percentage point lead over Crist as of 10:20 p.m., but with most counties reporting, the Democrat had little chance of winning.
Scott’s victory was part of a landslide for Republican politicians Tuesday. His cabinet, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and state CFO Jeff Atwater all cruised to victory.
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In southwest Dade, Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo knocked off incumbent Democrat Joe Garcia in the race to represent congressional district 26.
Garcia, at an election party at Casa Vieja in the Hammocks, arrived to applause but quickly acknowledged that he’d been beat by Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board member and political consultant who went back-and-forth with Garcia in what proved to be a ruthless campaign. Curbelo held a nearly 6,000-vote lead over the incumbent with votes from fewer than 20 precincts outstanding.
“It does not appear we're going to make up ground. This year was not a good year for Democrats,” he said.
Garcia called just after 10 p.m. to congratulate Curbelo. The congressman-elect walked on stage at his campaign party to the Rocky anthem “Eye of the Tiger” as a crowd chanted “Carlos! Carlos!” Curbelo said in a campaign speech that he will work across the aisle.
“We cannot forget the American people remain frustrated and disillusioned with their government,” Curbelo said. “Here in our community and throughout the country Americans are seeking leaders who will put the cause of a stronger greater nation before their personal, political interests.”
The two opponents poured more than $14 million combined into the race and savaged each other in advertisements over ethics and corruption investigations. Garcia, whose district includes Southwest Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, blamed the loss on “savage money that came in from the outside,” and said in Spanish that “millionaires had more say than voters.”
The race was among the most prominent in South Florida, in part because of the intrigue. Garcia’s former chief of staff was convicted on election fraud charges, and some of the congressman’s staffers remain under investigation over suspicions that his 2010 campaign put up a phony tea party candidate against his Republican opponent. That opponent, David Rivera, is under investigation himself for essentially the same issue stemming from the 2012 rematch against Garcia, but made a cameo on the campaign trail Tuesday.
Garcia in turn slammed Curbelo for declining to disclose all the clients of his consulting firm, which is registered to the candidate’s wife and therefore exempt from disclosure laws.
In other local races, preliminary results show that in Broward, a schools bond referendum to raise $800 million for construction will pass by a nearly three-to-one margin. With approval from the voters, the school board will raise the money by selling bonds on Wall Street. Investors make a profit on the interest payments that governments pay bond holders, and those payments come from increased property taxes.
In Miami-Dade, a bid by Florida International University to expand onto the Dade County Youth Fair grounds will pass. Miami-Dade’s charter requires park land to be used only for park purposes, unless an exception is granted. The amendment extends the exception to FIU and provides that no county funds could be used for expansion and relocation of the fair.
One big loser: a bond referendum to raise nearly $400 million for a new courthouse.
Elections supervisors are updating results throughout the night. So far, early and absentee votes have been counted, along with dozens of precincts. A series of local races and charter questions are also on the ballot for various municipalities.
Statewide, the focus was obviously on the governor’s race Tuesday night, which included an 11th-hour hearing in Broward County. Judge Jack Tuter rejected a motion by the Charlie Crist campaign to extend voting hours in the county.
Tuter rejected the campaign’s motion at 7:50 p.m. The judge -- ruling on the motion almost an hour after precincts had closed -- questioned why Democrats, who filed their motion at 6:45 p.m., didn’t file earlier in the day if some of the issues arose in the morning.
“The court didn’t feel it could reopen the polls,” Ryan said, although “the court presumed we met the standard of irreparable harm.”
Crist, who is running for Governor against Republican Rick Scott, had hoped to keep precincts open, saying “individual and systemic breakdowns ... made it difficult for voters to cast regular ballots” Tuesday at Broward County precincts. One precinct at an elementary school went offline due to power outages, and several people -- including the Sun Sentinel’s editorial page editor -- reported that they were told they’d already voted when they showed up to cast their ballot.
Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said no one was kept from voting due to the issues. She also said she’d not received any reports of hours-long lines in black communties of Lauderdale Lakes, North Lauderdale and in Weston, as alleged by the Crist campaign.
The failed Crist effort came as reports from early in the afternoon showed that overall turnout in the county -- where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two-to-one -- was about 135,000 by midday, only half of the early vote totals. Results showed Crist and Scott neck-and-neck with about a quarter of the state’s precincts tallied.
Broward did indeed experience a handful of issues that the supervisor of election described as minor. Before noon, Sun Sentinel editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau posted a column on the newspaper’s website saying poll workers told her she’d already voted when she swiped her driver’s license.
She said ultimately she was allowed to cast a standard ballot after it was confirmed she had not voted.
“But on leaving my precinct at Fort Lauderdale’s Virginia Shuman Young Elementary School on Tuesday morning, I wondered whether my vote will count,” Goudreau wrote, adding that at least one other voter experienced the same issue.
In Pompano Beach, Mark Merrill experienced the same problem, according to his wife, Robin Haines Merrill. She told The Herald that poll workers told her husband he’d already voted. But, having already read Goudreau’s column, they argued against filling out a provisional ballot.
She said her husband, who has no party affiliation, was able to vote, but the issue ruined a family trip to the polls with their son, who at 18 was voting for the first time.
“I just think it’s a freaking mess,” she said.
Supervisors spokeswoman Mary Cooney said the problems were due to an issue with the contractor hired for back-of-house management, such as keeping a voter database. She said very few voters had reported the issue, and all were able to cast normal ballots. But by the early evening they were unsure what had caused the issue.
Jane Watson, president of VR Systems, a contractor that provides election services for a number of Florida counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward, said her company was still investigating what caused the malfunction that improperly showed voters had already voted.
“We’ve had [reports of problems] in a couple of other counties. The situation did not arise in early voting. Did not arise in the primary,” she said. “So we’re not quite sure what’s causing it. What we’ll do is get the logs and study it.”
She said by 4 p.m., there were maybe six or so reports of problems among more than 1.1 million ID swipes.
Miami-Dade did not report any of the VR Systems-related problems experienced in Broward, though the company said they did receive reports of issues from other counties.
The Crist campaign also complained about the outage at Croissant Elementary in Fort Lauderdale that “slowed down voting in that location.”
Snipes said no voters were turned away because of the issue. Staff instead verified voters’ eligibility over the phone.
The Crist campaign also reported “EVID voting machine malfunctions in precincts throughout the county caused confusion among voters who were unable to update their address at polling precincts. Those voters were bounced between local precincts and SOE headquarters — ultimately, the system did not register them and they were unable to cast regular ballots.”
Charlie Crist adviser Dan Gelber told reporters Tuesday night that it is not the waits in various polling places in Broward County that prompted Crist to filed the emergency motion to extend polling hours, but rather the confusion voters faced because precincts were changed as a result of redistricting.
“In Broward County, what happened today was post-redistricting, a lot of precincts were changed. So throughout the day we got a lot of reports that people were unable to get their addresses updated so they could know which precinct to go to,'” Gelber told reporters at the Crist campaign's election-watch headquarters in St. Petersburg. “At least one precinct we know a machine was broken, the precinct was down actually for two hours.”
Gelber said there were “at least three pretty big, predominantly African-American precincts in Broward County with hour-long lines right now. And there are people in line all across this state. We want them all to vote.
Snipes disputed that any major issues arose.
“As far as we know there were no major problems,” she said. “We always have some kind of issues that pop up. We did not have any issues that occurred to our knowledge that would have kept a voter from voting.”
Tampa Bay Times reporter Katie L Sanders contributed to this report.