Miami-Dade finishes recounting more than 800,000 ballots. Get ready for Round Two

Last vote is recounted in Miami-Dade County

At 8:12 pm on Tuesday, Xavier Pichs recounted the last of Miami-Dade’s more than 800,000 ballots. There was applause.
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At 8:12 pm on Tuesday, Xavier Pichs recounted the last of Miami-Dade’s more than 800,000 ballots. There was applause.

Miami-Dade recounted the last of more than 800,000 ballots Tuesday evening to applause from the skeleton crew of county workers there for the end, wrapping up a 74-hour scramble to tally for the second time results from close races for governor, senator and agriculture commissioner.

Florida’s most populous county finished scanning its final ballot at 8:12 p.m., well ahead of the state’s Thursday afternoon deadline. To the north in Broward, the state’s second-largest county had just begun its recount Tuesday morning but the election supervisor there continued to express confidence that the tally would be completed by the time the results are due in Tallahassee at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Miami-Dade started the recount Saturday shortly before 6 p.m., and the county kept its ballot-scanning machines running 24 hours a day. By Tuesday evening, only a few workers remained. Xavier Pichs, a full-time Elections employee, handled the final ballot in one of three scanning rooms, inserting the single page into the machine at 8:12 p.m.

“Last one...,” he said, as the machine took in the single page. “Done.”

Three coworkers huddled around Pichs at the county office building in Doral cheered the end of the 74-hour marathon of rescanning ballots, but another tedious recount is sure to follow.

The machine recounts were called for governor, senator and agriculture commissioner when the statewide total for each race fell below 0.5 percent when officials results were tallied Saturday. Two, senator and agriculture, went into the recount below the .25 percent margin that would trigger a hand recount — a process in which election judges examine ballots where voters appeared to skip a race being recounted or voted for more than one candidate in the contests.

Judges vote on whether they can decipher the voter’s intent for each “over vote” or “under vote,” and those results get added to the final tally. Representatives of the campaigns can weigh in on the decision, as the media and other observers watch the ballot-by-ballot debate.

The recount hasn’t officially ended. Miami-Dade’s canvassing board, a three-member panel that includes Miami-Dade’s appointed elections supervisor, Christina White, has called a 9 a.m. meeting Wednesday to take the final steps required to end the state-mandated process. There could be some stray provisional ballots to consider, as well as counts from special ballot machines designed for disabled people unable to fill out the standard paper ballots.

No results will be announced in Miami-Dade until the canvassing board officially approves the results.

The hand recount won’t be officially ordered by Florida until after the machine-recount results are finalized. The deadline for that is 3 p.m. Thursday. There is a lawsuit by incumbent Bill Nelson, the Democrat trailing Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate race, to extend the machine-recount deadline.

“We’re doing the preparations” for a hand recount, Elections spokesman Roberto Rodriguez said, “but we can’t do anything until the state calls it.”

On Wednesday, election workers will also check all ballot boxes for any stray pages that should have been included in the recount, a process the department calls “quality assurance.”

White presided over what may be the most extensive recount of any county in Florida history. Each ballot — most had four pages, some had five — had to be separated into the single page that contained the three contested races. Then they were scanned, with problematic ballots not showing a clear choice for one of the contests set aside to be tallied separately. White said the result was more than 4 million pages touched by as many six workers throughout the recount marathon.

“There’s still work to do,” White said Tuesday night. “I’m not willing to say we’re done until we’re done.”

Miami-Dade’s recount started shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday. White said she didn’t leave the building until the following day for a few hours. On Monday, “I went home for five hours.”

Tuesday saw the final steps of a recount process that involved the largest single source of ballots in all of Florida’s 67 counties. Miami-Dade had 813,087 ballots to tabulate, more than any other county in Florida. Its recounting process took about 300 workers, according to Rodriguez.

Miami-Dade shipped in five high-speed ballot counters from Nebraska to join the nine Elections already had. Glitches prevented those from joining the count, but White said the operation wound up moving quickly enough without the reinforcements. Along with about 100 county workers, Miami-Dade hired 200 temporary workers for the first statewide recount in Florida’s history,

White was appointed to her post by Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2015, and confirmed by the County Commission. Miami-Dade is one of the few counties in Florida to appoint its elections chief, and White’s performance has served as a foil to Broward’s elected elections supervisor, Brenda Snipes. Snipes has presided over a recount process that didn’t begin recounting ballots until Tuesday. Snipes and her deputies said they’re confident the county will meet the Thursday deadline.

Broward has been the subject of baseless allegations of fraud from Scott and President Donald Trump, and scorn from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. The end of the machine recount could add more fodder to critics of the state-mandated process, since it’s almost inevitable most counties will end up with results that show either more or fewer ballots cast than were in the original, unofficial results reported to the state on Saturday.

“It will never be the same,” White said of the recount results.

For Pichs, scanning the final ballot in Miami-Dade’s most extensive recount was a moment to celebrate.

“It’s been intense,” he said. “Being a part of history.”