At the end of election day on Tuesday, it appeared that Democrat Nikki Fried had lost to Republican Matt Caldwell for the Florida Cabinet post of agriculture commissioner.
Saturday, after late vote tallies in Broward and other counties showed she was actually ahead by 5,326 votes, Fried claimed victory and started working on a transition.
It may be premature. The state division of elections ordered automatic machine recounts for three statewide races Saturday afternoon, including Fried’s. And the latest vote tallies don’t include and military and overseas votes. The military vote historically has trended Republican.
The agriculture commissioner race is almost certain to go to a manual recount, which has to be done for races in which candidates’ votes end within .25 percent or less of each other. The margin in the Fried-Calwell race: .06 percent.
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Fried told reporters that her announcement was not premature, and that “the process has a way of working itself out.” Her transition team, she said, will be led by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who represented the large agriculture community of Martin County.
“I’m looking forward to working with her and Commissioner Putnam on a seamless transition and helping her put together an office which will accomplish her priorities of protecting our waterways, being a fighter for farmers in Tallahassee and Washington, ensuring complete background checks, and expanding access to medical marijuana,” Murphy said.
Also on the team is U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and Fred Guttenberg, a gun-control activist whose daughter, Jaime, was murdered in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last February.
Fried, who has already been in touch with current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam regarding the transition, said her first priorities align with her key campaign points: She will be looking at water quality issues, expanding medical marijuana and conducting a thorough investigation of the background checks in the concealed-weapons permitting process.
“In me, you have a Commissioner of Agriculture who will put science before politics and put our waterways first, who will ensure full background checks are completed on gun permits, and who will be a fierce advocate for expanding access to medical marijuana for suffering Floridians,” she said. “And while this position is much more than agriculture, I know that the success of Florida’s farmers is directly linked to the success of our state.”
While Fried was celebrating, her opponent was hoping for a closer look at the vote counting process.
Caldwell became the latest statewide candidate Friday afternoon to file a lawsuit over the counting of votes in the 2018 midterm elections.
His lawsuit, filed in Broward County, asks the court to determine if Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes “illegally included ballots after polls closed” on Nov. 6.
His campaign also filed a public-records request for vote counts and emails among Snipes, her team and any third parties regarding ballot counting.