Nicole “Nikki” Fried may have a fighting chance at being the Democrat’s last hope for a statewide seat.
The Fort Lauderdale attorney and lobbyist is leading Republican challenger Rep. Matt Caldwell by a mere 2,914 votes as of 8:20 p.m. Thursday, according to the Division of Elections. At the start of the day, she trailed Caldwell by about 4,000 votes.
It is almost certain that a manual recount is in store: the threshold is 0.25 points. But unofficial statewide results have to be reported to the state elections office before a recount can be officially ordered. The deadline for counties to report unofficial results is Saturday at noon.
On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, Fried put out calls for donations to her “emergency recount fund” to ensure a holistic recount of votes. She called out for volunteers to help monitor canvassing boards and phone bank for provisional ballots in key counties throughout the state.
In order for provisional ballots to count, voters must show proof of identification by 5 p.m. Thursday.
“Since the first returns came in on election night, we have said that seeing through this process to the end, ensuring every vote is counted so the voices of Floridians are heard, and their will is respected — is the top priority,” Fried said Thursday. “As supervisors across our state work tirelessly to do just that, our support has grown and we are now leading by just under 600 votes — Florida supervisors and canvassing boards are doing an incredible job of ensuring everyone’s voices are heard and the process is fair and transparent.”
Fried added that her small lead will continue to grow.
“We’re confident that by Saturday, when final results are certified, our lead will have grown, and the voters’ choice in the race for agriculture commissioner will be clear,” she said.
A win for Fried would be big for the Democratic party. The Republican party swept the rest of the seats Tuesday, in close races across the board. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis beat out former state senator Jeremy Ring by 3.72 points, and Republican candidate for attorney general Ashley Moody edged Sean Shaw by a hefty 6.25 points.
Brian Swensen, a spokesman for Caldwell’s campaign criticized Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes for her “gross incompetence and potential corruption election cycle after election cycle.”
Following a court ruling in May that Snipes had illegally destroyed ballots from a 2016 congressional race, the governor’s office announced the Florida Department of State would send election experts to Snipes’ office during this year’s election.
“Over the past two days, Snipes’ office has refused to give either an accurate count of outstanding ballots or where they come from, all while the Democratic candidates continue to pick up tens of thousands of new votes,” Swensen said in a statement. “Ms. Snipes’ office has a record of incompetence and illegal behavior.”
Swensen added that Caldwell’s legal team will “pursue every option” to ensure votes are fairly accounted for.
“Matt Caldwell will be Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture and the will of the voters will be upheld,” he said.
Caldwell’s campaign has hired Republican operative Richard Coates as his lead attorney. Coates is a lobbyist, campaign consultant and elections lawyer for GOP politicians accused of ethical or elections law violations.
Coates was also the lawyer for Florida Grown, former agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam’s political committee.
As of 9 a.m., Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis’ lead over Andrew Gillum was just 42,948 votes out of 8,189,305 ballots cast — equal to 0.52 percent of the vote.
By 2 p.m., Gillum gained on DeSantis by another 4,441 votes, and now trails by only 0.47 percent. That means this race is now within the margin for a machine recount, too.