Miami-Dade wraps up U.S. Senate recount, and the numbers barely budged

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.

It was a fairly quick U.S. Senate recount in Miami-Dade County, and that’s bad news for Bill Nelson.

Florida’s most populous county made short work of hand recounting more than 10,000 ballots that machines determined didn’t include a readable vote for either Republican Rick Scott, Florida’s outgoing governor, or Nelson, the three-term incumbent U.S. senator and a Democrat. The final results: only 181 new votes for Nelson. He needs more than 12,000 statewide to flip his current loss to Scott into a win.

Christina White, the county’s appointed elections supervisor, shared the manual recount results shortly before 1 p.m. Most of the work was finished by lunchtime. Miami-Dade cleared out a room of ballot screeners midmorning as a canvassing board wrapped up the final inspection of some questionable ballots to see which ones could be counted as new votes for either candidate.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">A tale of three ballot bins in Miami-Dade, with an unhappy ending for Bill Nelson. 65 ballots were blank in Senate contest (undervote bin). One had votes for both candidates (overvote bin). And only 4 got sent on to canvassing board with a chance of being added to Nelson total <a href="https://t.co/wWBrRjl9LC">pic.twitter.com/wWBrRjl9LC</a></p>&mdash; Doug Hanks (@doug_hanks) <a href="https://twitter.com/doug_hanks/status/1063436813342261249?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 16, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

The counting teams reviewed more than 10,000 ballots, and a tiny fraction of them yielded new votes. The county’s three-person canvassing board awarded 348 new votes for Nelson and 167 for Scott. The end result was Nelson only narrowed Scott’s lead by 181 votes. Miami-Dade has the largest number of voters in Florida, and accounted for 1 out of every 10 ballots cast in Florida. Nelson was counting on a much larger amount of new votes from deep-blue Miami-Dade to win his long-shot bid for victory in the manual recount that began Thursday afternoon across Florida.

Most races have significant numbers of ballots where voters opt not to participate and simply skip the contest. Those are called undervotes, and they offer no help for Nelson, who entered the statewide recount nearly a week ago down 12,000 votes to Scott.

Undervotes are the fastest to recount. They’re blank, and can just be placed in a do-not-count bin by county election workers paid to screen ballots under the scrutiny of campaign observers. The more questionable ballots have pen strokes on them that screening machines couldn’t decipher during the regular automated process that produced the results for Election Day from more than 800,000 votes cast.

Miami-Dade’s manual recount of the 10,039 un-scannable ballots began at 9 p.m. Thursday, hours after Florida ordered one statewide in the Senate and agriculture commissioner races. Both contests emerged from the six-day machine recount with margins within 0.25 percent, the trigger for a hand recount. The race for governor ended above that margin, leaving Republican Ron DeSantis ahead and the presumed governor-elect once the machine recount ended in Florida at 3 p.m. Thursday.

After four hours of ballot screening, Miami-Dade halted the hand-recount process at 1 a.m. Friday. It resumed after 9 a.m., with a seemingly wide cushion ahead of a noon Sunday deadline for turning in the final results to Tallahassee.

While the Senate race gets the most attention, the agriculture race promises to demand more work. There are more than 31,000 problematic ballots in that race, with almost all of them counted as undervotes by the scanning machines. Less than 300 had some kind of markings inside the candidate bubbles.

On Friday afternoon the elections review team began sorting through that small number of ballots for ones that needed to be reviewed by the canvassing board to determine which candidate the voter intended to vote for.

By 6:15 p.m. all Election Day ballots had been reviewed, and the teams began to work on early voting ballots at around 6:45 p.m. Roberto Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade elections office, seemed confident the hand recount for commissioner of agriculture would be finished Friday night, well ahead of the Sunday afternoon deadline.

“That’s the plan,” he said.

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Amy Driscoll, Miami Herald's editor and part of newsroom team that covered the 2000 recount, talks to Kendall Coffey, Ed Pozzuoli, and Mark Seibel at the University of Miami’s Donna E. Shalala Student Center on November 14th, 2018.