State Politics

This tight Florida race is a reminder of Bush-Gore in 2000. Democrats still have hope.

Poll workers help people check in as voters cast their votes at Miami Beach Fire Station #3 on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.
Poll workers help people check in as voters cast their votes at Miami Beach Fire Station #3 on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The razor-thin race for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services could have a recount in its future, meaning one last chance for the Democratic party to gain at least one statewide seat.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, the Republican challenger, led Fort Lauderdale attorney and lobbyist Nicole “Nikki” Fried by about 0.16 percentage points as of Wednesday afternoon. The threshold for a machine recount is .5 points and the threshold for a manual recount is 0.25 points.

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. Most notably, governor-elect Ron DeSantis topped Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by a slim 0.62 points.

And the U.S. Senate race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson is even closer at .38 points with Scott leading by about 30,175 votes.

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Republicans have won 13 of the last 14 Cabinet races, most by large margins.

In the race for agriculture commissioner, however, the Republican stronghold is not so strong.

The actual raw numbers Wednesday afternoon — with a trickle of provisional, absentee, military and overseas ballots possibly still to be tallied — put Caldwell ahead of Fried by about 12,400 votes, with just over 8 million votes cast.

Caroline Rowland, a spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party said the party is pursuing a recount for Fried’s election, and is taking “every step” to ensure all ballots are counted.



She added that a win for Fried would be a “huge win” for the party. Throughout her campaign, Fried has emphasized progressive ideas on marijuana, gun control and water quality — potential policies that would bode well for Democrats.

“She would act as a check to Republican policies that have stalled the medical marijuana implementation efforts, weakened concealed carry background checks and environmental regulations,” Rowland said.

Wednesday morning, Fried put out a call for donations to her “emergency recount fund” to ensure a holistic recount of votes.

“This is the closest race we’ve seen here in Florida since Bush v. Gore in 2000 — we’re heading into a recount,” Fried said. “We are going to ensure that every vote is counted, in a race this close, everyone’s voices must be heard so the will of the people is upheld.”

Fried said she was disappointed watching the results come in on election night, adding that the “Democratic Party needs an injection of new leadership.”

If anyone knows what it means to have just one Democrat in statewide office, it’s Alex Sink.

The former Chief Financial Officer — also the last Democrat to be elected into a Cabinet role — said having a Democrat on the Cabinet would change the dynamic dramatically.

“She’s responsible to no one except herself and the people of Florida. She doesn’t have to worry about offending DeSantis, Moody or Patronis,” said Sink, who gave up her seat when she ran for governor in 2010. “ I was able to be very vocal about a number of issues around environmental policy, financial policy.”

Sink added that with the passage of Amendment 4, it’s crucial someone keeps governor-elect DeSantis honest. DeSantis and attorney general-elect Moody openly opposed the amendment, which restores voting rights to felons who have finished their sentences, and Sink said she can’t imagine they’d be receptive to writing rules and changing clemency policies. The Cabinet also serves as the state’s clemency board.

“It would be a very, very important role for Nikki as the sole Democrat in the Cabinet to offer some kind of balance,” said Sink, who called the Democrat losses Tuesday night “demoralizing.”

On the contrary, Caldwell spokesman Brian Swensen said they are feeling optimistic the numbers will remain in their favor.

“We will be going through the state’s mandated recount and do not expect the results to change,” he said.

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Ballots go to an automatic recount if 0.5 percent of the votes, or less, separate the candidates. Under state law, the recount can only be triggered by the margin of votes, and in this race it has been met. There isn’t an avenue for candidates to request a recount, but a losing candidate can submit a written request that a recount not be held.

Fried has not yet conceded the race.

The recount will likely take some time. Because the race is statewide, each county canvassing board has to notify the Secretary of State the total combined number of overvote and undervote ballots in the county for the affected race.

An overvote is when a voter marks more than one choice in a race on their ballot. An undervote is when a voter marks no choice in a race on their ballot.

Counties have to report their first unofficial returns to the state no later than noon Saturday, according to the Division of Elections. By then, if a race is still within the recount margin, a machine recount will be ordered.

Second unofficial returns will be due no later than 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15, if a machine recount is ordered. If any of the races are still within a 0.25 percent margin, a manual recount would then be ordered.

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