State Politics

Recount looms larger, legal action begins as margins narrow in key Florida races

How does an election recount work?

Florida law requires an automatic recount in a race in which the difference in vote totals is half a percent or less. The law requires a manual recount if the difference in the vote totals is 1/4 of a percent or less.
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Florida law requires an automatic recount in a race in which the difference in vote totals is half a percent or less. The law requires a manual recount if the difference in the vote totals is 1/4 of a percent or less.

As the U.S. Senate race between Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson appears headed to a statewide recount, both candidates are mobilizing teams of lawyers and legal skirmishes are well underway.

The statewide race for commissioner of agriculture and consumer services is even narrower, according to vote totals posted Thursday morning, and even the governor’s race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis is nearing the threshold for a recount.

In a fierce scramble for votes, thousands of provisional ballots cast by people who did not have an ID or who voted at the wrong precinct are already the focus of scrutiny by both sides.

Both campaigns made demands Wednesday for details on all voters who cast provisional ballots Tuesday. Those demands were swiftly rejected by county election supervisors, who said that the requests by both candidates violated state law and the Florida Constitution.

“We are requesting the total number of provisional ballots in Pasco County, and the voter information for these ballots,” wrote Grace Albergo, regional political director for Scott’s campaign, in an email that other supervisors said that they also received.

Absolutely not, Pasco Supervisor Brian Corley responded.

“I’m unable to provide any identifying information on those persons who have voted a provisional ballot,” Corley told Scott’s campaign. “Doing so could be a violation of 101.048(6), F.S., and Article I, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution [e.g., voters being guaranteed the right to cast a secret ballot].

“By releasing information for those who completed a provisional ballot, it may be possible to determine how that individual cast their ballot in specific contests, thereby violating both Florida Statutes and the Florida Constitution with their right to cast a secret ballot,” Corley wrote.

Pasco, the state’s 11th most populous county, had 130 provisional ballots on Tuesday, Corley said.

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Nelson’s campaign made similar electronic requests that were also quickly rejected by counties.

“I gave them the number that we had, but I did not give them the names,” Okaloosa Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux told the Herald/Times. “If you give them the names of people, you could potentially violate the secret ballot provision of the state Constitution.”

As of Thursday morning, Scott led Nelson by 21,899 votes or .26 percent of 8.2 million ballots cast, making it likely the closest Senate race in Florida’s history, according to the state Division of Elections web site. Matt Caldwell led Nikki Fried in the agriculture commissioner race by 4,109 votes or .06 percent. DeSantis led Gillum by 42,938 or .52 percent. The recount threshold is .5 percent.

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Thursday at 5 p.m. is the deadline for voters who voted provisionally to verify their ID or provide other documentation to ensure that their votes count.

County canvassing boards must report their first unofficial returns to the state by noon Saturday. The Miami-Dade County canvassing board is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner then will order statewide machine recounts in the Scott-Nelson Senate race; the contest for agriculture commissioner and two House contests, all within the one-half of a percentage point recount.

A complete summary of all Florida recount procedures can be found here.

A machine recount is simple, Corley said, where completed ballots are fed through ballot counting machines to verify original, unofficial counts. A manual recount will occur if a machine recount shows one candidate is leading by one-fourth of a percentage point or less.

A manual recount is vastly more complicated and time-consuming and involves ballot-by-ballot reviews of all under-votes (no vote marked on a ballot) and over-votes (too many candidates selected on a ballot). That requires local canvassing board members to interpret voter intent, which was at the heart of the legal battles in the 2000 presidential recount.

The highly-decentralized nature of Florida election administration means that a hand recount will be fought out in 67 counties at once, as a second campaign marshals legal and political forces on each side’s behalf.

As George W. Bush, Al Gore and the world discovered in 2000, it’s a short step from there to raucous demonstrations at courthouses, and chants of “Count every vote! Count every vote!”

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