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Florida Begins Vote Recounts in Senate and Governor’s Races

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The Last Outlaw
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PostThe Last Outlaw on Sat Nov 10, 2018 1:57 pm


From The New York Times

Frances Robles and Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times wrote:

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Florida began the first full, statewide vote recount in its history on Saturday after state authorities found that tallies submitted by the state’s 67 counties left the contests for Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner too close to call.

Recounts were also ordered in a State Senate race and two contests for the state House, a measure of the slender margins in the nation’s largest swing state that have left two of the most closely watched races in the country still undecided, four days after the midterm elections.

After unofficial results came in shortly after noon on Saturday, Gov. Rick Scott’s edge in the race for the Senate had slipped to just 12,600 votes over the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Andrew Gillum, the Democratic Tallahassee mayor who on election night had conceded his loss in the governor’s race to Ron DeSantis, rose to within 33,600 votes, and retracted his earlier concession.

“Florida has never had a full statewide recount. It’s about to have three,” Andrew Weinstein, the national co-chair for the Democratic Lawyers Council, said on Twitter. “Buckle up.”

The sight of grim-faced candidates, shouting protesters outside the Broward County elections office and lawyers flown in from Washington evoked memories of Florida’s hotly contested recount over the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore and capped off one of the most bitterly divisive midterm election seasons in years.

And Florida was not the only state still trying to determine election outcomes. In the Georgia governor’s race, Brian Kemp, the Republican, was ahead of his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, by about 63,000 votes.

In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic candidate in the state’s uncalled Senate race, expanded her lead on Friday to 20,203 votes over Martha McSally, the Republican contender — and thousands of ballots were still to be counted.

Across Florida, elections office employees already exhausted after processing thousands of ballots since Tuesday geared up for a new round of tabulations, this time with a tight deadline that requires results by Thursday.

The Miami-Dade elections office will have to work around the clock, in daytime and overnight shifts, to conduct the recount, said Suzy Trutie, a spokeswoman. The office, which normally relies on six ballot-counting machines, has rented an additional four machines, scheduled to arrive on Monday from Omaha, Neb.

Mr. Scott, who has filed lawsuits against elections officials in Broward and Palm Beach Counties over the handling of ballots, made it clear he was not expecting to relinquish the seat he claimed on Tuesday night and suggested the latest results filed on Saturday had reconfirmed it.

“The voters of Florida have spoken and Rick Scott was elected to the United States Senate in a close but decisive victory,” his spokesman, Chris Hartline, said in a statement. He said the typical recount changes outcomes “by just a few hundred votes,” and hinted that Mr. Nelson should back down. “It’s time for Senator Nelson to accept reality and spare the state of the Florida the time, expense and discord of a recount,” he said.

Mr. Nelson showed little willingness to take Mr. Scott up on his offer. “This process is about one thing: making sure every legal ballot is counted and protecting the right of every Floridian to participate in our democracy,” he said in a statement. “We believe when every legal ballot is counted, we’ll win this election.”

In the governor’s race, the margin was narrow enough to prompt an automatic recount but wide enough for The Associated Press on Saturday to declare Mr. DeSantis the winner. The A.P. retracted the call a short time later, when Mr. Gillum, speaking to reporters in Tallahassee, defiantly announced that his earlier concession no longer applied.

He said efforts by Mr. Trump, Mr. Scott and Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, to question the counting of votes before the tallying was complete was akin to voter suppression. “I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromising and unapologetic call that we count every single vote,” he said. “And I say this recognizing that my fate in this may or may not change.”

The third statewide race now set for a recount was for the post of agriculture commissioner, between Nikki Fried, a Democrat, and Matt Caldwell, a Republican.

The candidates, who saw comfortable margins diminish as heavily Democratic southern counties continued to process mailed and problem ballots, have in the days since cried fraud and filed lawsuits.

Mr. Scott denounced the embattled Broward County elections supervisor, Brenda C. Snipes, who, the campaign said Friday night, still refused to confirm whether she had counted all the ballots. Dr. Snipes was forced to admit that she had inadvertently tabulated about a dozen rejected ballots, which only fueled Republican accusations that her office had botched the vote-counting process. The count was completed on Saturday.

“Three days after Election Day, the vote tally continues to change and Supervisor Snipes still refuses to explain where and how the new votes came to light,” the campaign said in a statement. “The public deserves a clear and direct answer.”

Mr. Scott urged sheriff’s deputies to be on alert for any reports of vote-rigging.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner formally ordered the recounts on Saturday afternoon. The new tallies were expected to begin right away in the state’s largest counties, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Other counties could also proceed immediately, though many were expected to wait until Sunday to begin.

Each county in Florida will have until Thursday to run all of its ballots through counting machines again. At that point, any race that remains within a margin of 0.25 of a percentage point or less will have another three days, until Nov. 18, to conduct a manual recount.

Manual recounts seem almost certain in the races for Senate and commissioner of agriculture, which are already within that quarter-point margin.

A manual recount does not mean every ballot is counted by hand.

Only the votes that come up as an “undervote” or “overvote” get pulled for manual review. For example, if a voter had put a check mark next to a candidate’s name instead of filling the circle out completely, a vote-counting machine could have missed it.

In cases where a machine detects that a person actually chose two people in the same race, a team of election workers looks at the ballot to see if the voter’s intention was clear. The person could have crossed out one candidate’s name, so that ballot would likely be counted.

But several issues could arise during the process. Older counting machines might be unable to conduct an unprecedented three statewide recounts simultaneously, making it impossible to meet the state’s deadline. If a county is unable to complete a recount in any particular race, Saturday’s unofficial results from that county would stand for that race.

Brian Y. Silber, a lawyer, went through an exhaustive manual recount this summer when a Broward County judge he represented seemed to have lost on Election Day — only to wake up the next morning to find that he had taken the lead. It took two days to get a new result, he said, and that was with about a quarter of the number of ballots that now must be reviewed.

“I would be shocked, really shocked, if there was evidence of fraud, conspiracy, anything illegal or evil,” Mr. Silber said. “What I genuinely believe is that elections officials, for whatever reason, are not getting it done on time. That’s a combination of poor management, underfunding and understaffing.”

The problem has been going on for years, he said.

He said Republicans had a savvy — albeit misleading — strategy to convince supporters in advance that any loss would be attributable to misdeeds by Democrats.

“It’s really smart on the G.O.P.’s part,” Mr. Silber said. “They know there is no evidence of fraud.”

Daniel A. Smith, chairman of the political science department at the University of Florida, said 41,000 Floridians requested mail-in ballots from overseas, so elections supervisors were simply inundated with ballots to count after Election Day.

“My position quite honestly is there is very low likelihood of fraud going on anywhere,” Mr. Smith said. “There is a capacity issue when so many ballots come in on Election Day.”

Mr. Scott claimed fraud in Broward County even though the state was monitoring Dr. Snipes’s office during the election. The state’s division of elections assigned two staff members to watch how the election was administered, visit polling places and observe the preparation of voting equipment and procedures.

The monitors made no reports of fraud.

“Our staff has seen no evidence of criminal activity at this time,” Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the division of elections, said on Saturday.

The odds that Mr. Gillum, who trails by 0.41 percentage points, and even Mr. Nelson, who is behind by about 0.15 percentage points, will find themselves on top after a recount seem low, according to veterans of Florida’s presidential recount in 2000.

Marc Elias, Mr. Nelson’s lawyer, has maintained that a machine error might still account for fewer votes for Mr. Nelson — an issue that would only be caught in a manual recount.

“Ultimately, the ballots are what they are,” he said. “The votes are what they are.”

All eyes on Florida and Georgia.  More as this develops.  For now, the only thing that is for sure in Florida and Georgia is nothing's for sure!

Just saying.

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