Whenever you see the words “Florida” and “recount” in the same headline, it’s time to start self-medicating — and cover your chads.
For most of the country, the grinding, venomous 2018 mid-terms are over — but not here, in the dependably confused Sunshine State. Joke writers for late-night TV hosts are rapturous.
Three major statewide recounts threaten to torment weary Floridians for days, weeks or longer. It all depends on the number (and tenacity) of lawyers hired by both parties.
The nasty U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott is almost certainly headed for Recount Purgatory. As of this writing, Scott was ahead of Nelson by only 15,074 votes — roughly .18 percent of the nearly 8.2 million ballots cast so far in that race.
If math isn’t your best subject, here’s another way to put that .18 percent lead in a visual perspective: Think “razor thin.” Now slice that into fractions with a razor.
In Florida, a full recount is initiated when the spread is .5 percent or less. You might be wondering if Scott’s campaign team misplaced their calculators last Tuesday night, because they sent out their beaming candidate to give a victory speech.
If he ends up losing, the celebratory video will become an iconic political relic, like the “Dewey Defeats Truman” front page from 1948.
Also apparently destined for a recount is the race for state agriculture commissioner, with Republican Matt Caldwell losing his election-night lead over Democrat Nikki Fried, and falling behind by 2,915 votes by Friday morning.
Caldwell, Big Sugar’s sweetheart candidate, can afford an army of legal hotshots to challenge the legitimacy of mail-in and provisional ballots as they are tabulated. In other words, this thing could drag on and on.
Finally, the state’s most widely-watched race — one that almost everyone, including the candidates, assumed was settled — is much closer than first believed.
The Big Orange Trumpster’s favored choice for governor, Ron DeSantis, had already declared victory. His opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, had already conceded defeat.
Yet as more ballots came in, DeSantis’s lead began to evaporate, and Gillum retracted his concession. By Friday morning the margin was only .44 percent, which would qualify for an automatic R-word.
Meanwhile Scott has rushed to sue Broward and Palm Beach counties, Democratic strongholds where elections officials aren’t famous for speed or efficiency.
In Broward, 24,000-plus people who voted in the governor’s race neglected to vote for either senatorial candidate — a strange occurrence, since the Senate race was listed first on the county ballot, and the gubernatorial contest was fourth.
Elsewhere, fretful campaign operatives are focused on provisional ballots filed by voters who’d forgotten to bring a photo ID or showed up at the wrong precinct. Both parties are gearing up for battle.
Floridians who were embarrassed by the Bush-Gore debacle in 2000 don’t want to suffer through one more laughingstock recount, much less multiples. A couple of House races also remain too close to call.
In an orderly, incorruptible alternate universe, the process might go smoothly:
A machine recount would be ordered if a candidate loses by .5 percent or less in the first unofficial set of election returns. All ballots would again be fed through the tabulating machines, but only after the machines are first tested for accuracy.
If, after the machine recount, any candidate is losing by .25 percent or less, local canvassing boards would meet to manually evaluate ballots that displayed no votes or too many votes.
You might be thinking: Florida has 67 counties. What are the odds of all of them getting it right?
That chaotic, chad-fondling hand count 18 years ago is what ignited partisan courthouse protests, a blizzard of lawsuits and, ultimately, a split Supreme Court ruling that halted the manual recount and put George W. Bush in the White House.
The other lasting result of that month-long ordeal was, for Floridians, more psychological than political. We woke up in a place that had been internationally exposed as the most bumbling, screwed-up state in America.
What happens during this year’s recounts is unlikely to erase that image. As a fitting asterisk, the person overseeing the festivities is Secretary of State Ken Detzner, appointed to the job in 2012 by now-candidate Rick Scott.
The drama is moving like sewage, slow and fluid. By the time this column appears, the vote margins in these disputed races will have changed again by tiny, crucial percentages.
What won’t change is Florida’s vaudeville role on the national political stage, which is always funnier if you don’t live here.