Florida Senate Race Heads To Hand Recount; Legal Challenges Continue

November 15, 2018

Updated at 6:11 p.m. ET

As confusion continues over the outcome of multiple Florida elections, a hand recount has been ordered in that state’s narrow Senate race between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Meanwhile, in the gubernatorial contest, Republican Ron DeSantis appears headed to victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum after a machine recount did not significantly narrow the margin in that race.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner declared that the Senate race was within a 0.25 percent margin after a machine recount was conducted across the state, which triggers a hand recount of some ballots to be completed by noon on Sunday. Nelson continues to trail Scott by 0.15 percent.

The hand recount is only of ballots that registered either an undervote or an overvote in the race (an undervote is where a marking isn’t registered for the race; an overvote is where more than one marking is registered).

The hand recount order in the Senate race, as well as a hand recount in the tight race for agriculture commissioner, came after at least one Florida county missed a 3 p.m. deadline to submit results from a statewide machine recount.

Palm Beach County — a heavily populated Democratic stronghold in the state, which has been plagued by antiquated, failing equipment — did not meet the deadline and submitted initial tallies collected on Saturday.

“It was a heroic effort,” Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told reporters after the deadline passed. “We were adding up our tallies, and you can see they were adding up, but we just need some more time.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hillsborough County also did not submit results after its recount turned up 846 fewer votes than the initial tally.

“Even though we achieved 99.84 percent success in our recount effort, we are not willing to accept that votes go unreported,” Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer told the Times.

According to state law, when counties do not submit recount results, the initial unofficial tally stands.

In Broward County, the machine recount was completed just ahead of the deadline. Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes — who has said she is likely to leave her post, as she has been under intense criticism for allegedly mismanaging the election process — said that 23 ineligible provisional ballots that had been mixed in with eligible ballots would be counted in her county’s tally. If the margin comes down to 23 votes, she allowed that the count could be contested. A margin that small seems highly unlikely, however.

Nelson, who is about 12,000 votes behind Scott in the Senate race, had asked a federal judge to push Thursday’s deadline back so every county could complete its second tally of ballots.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, after presiding over a two-hour status hearing Thursday morning to hear arguments on the case, issued an order in the early afternoon denying the request.

After the deadline, Scott called on Nelson to concede.

“We need to put this election behind us, and it is time for Bill Nelson to respect the will of the voters and graciously bring this process to an end rather than proceed with yet another count of the votes — which will yield the same result, and bring more embarrassment to the state that we both love and have served,” said Scott in a statement issued by his campaign.

Walker ruled also early Thursday morning to allow some 4,000 Floridians whose ballots were rejected because of issues with mismatched signatures to resolve those problems by Saturday. The number of ballots at issue in that ruling would be too small to change the lead in the statewide races if the margins are large enough to avoid a hand recount. But with a hand recount, those voters would be able to fix signature issues before the Sunday deadline.

Palm Beach County uses the oldest ballot-counting equipment in the state and is only able to recount one statewide race at a time.

Over the past few days, those machines overheated, spoiling vote counts and forcing the county to restart its recount of about 175,000 votes.

“I don’t think they were designed to work 24/7 — kind of like running an old car from here to LA. And so, you know, things happen to them,” said Bucher.

In Thursday’s hearing in federal court, Walker was frustrated by how little information he had been given about Palm Beach County’s progress and whether there was any sort of timetable for the county to complete its recounts.

“You’re seeking relief; how do I fashion relief? I just have an open-ended order, and when you’re done, you just let us know?” Walker asked an attorney representing Nelson’s campaign. “It seems like everyone is working overtime to diminish our faith in our institutions.”

After the morning hearing, Walker did call another hearing for 4 p.m. ET to hear from Bucher.

“This Court requires evidence from Defendants Supervisor Bucher and the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board on the status and expected completion dates of the various ordered recounts,” wrote Walker in his order.

The judge could still delay Sunday’s deadline for official returns.

Not only does Palm Beach County need to recount the three statewide races. A race there for a seat in Florida’s House of Representatives was decided by fewer than 50 votes, so it needs to be recounted as well. Democrat Jim Bonfiglio, who trails Republican Mike Caruso in that House race, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit requesting that the deadline be pushed back.

The Florida Elections Canvassing Commission (from which Scott recused himself this week) is scheduled to meet Nov. 20 to certify the results of the election.

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