Marquee Fla. Races May Be Headed for Recount

  • From left, Erica Connor waves a giant head photo of gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum while John and Clare Clegg wave signs for opponent Ron DeSantis on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov.6, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (Will Dickey /The Florida Times-Union via AP)

  • Florida gubernatorial candidates Rep. Ron DeSantis, left, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum during a debate at Broward College in Davie, Fla., on Wednesday Oct. 24, 2018. (Carline Jean/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

  • FILE - In this combination of Oct. 21, 2018 file photos Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, left, and Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speak during a CNN debate in Tampa, Fla. Races for governor, legislative seats and other state-level offices have attracted more than $2 billion in campaign contributions this year. That nearly matches contributions to congressional elections, the highest profile political events this year. The top states this year for reported contributions to candidates are, in order, Illinois, California, Texas, Florida, New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Polls have consistently shown a tight race in Florida between DeSantis, a loyalist to President Donald Trump, and Tallahassee Mayor Gillum. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, Files)

The Washington Post
Thursday, November 08, 2018

Nearly two decades after hanging chads transfixed the nation, Florida is once again headed toward a high-stakes election recount, as vote margins narrowed in Democrats’ favor on Thursday in the state’s marquee U.S. Senate and governor’s races.

Hundreds of party and interest-group volunteers spent the day trying to track down people who had cast provisional ballots, seeking affidavits to prove their votes should be counted. And in an echo of the 2000 presidential election, state Republicans tried to preempt the coming fight by accusing Democratic lawyers of heading to Broward County to “steal” the election.

In the Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, had a lead of just more than 17,000 votes, or 0.22 percent, over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson as of Thursday afternoon. In the governor’s race, Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum trailed former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, by fewer than 39,000 votes, or 0.47 percent.

Under Florida law, a statewide machine recount is conducted when the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent, and a manual recount is ordered if the margin is less than 0.25 percent.

The likely recounts, however, are expected to be more orderly than the televised circus that resulted in George W. Bush’s election to the presidency. Under changes to state law, local canvass boards no longer have discretion over whether to order a recount, and new optical-scan voting machines have made it easier to divine voter intent than the old punch card ballots, which sometimes featured the partially detached bits of paper.

The recount preparations come as legal challenges have added suspense to statewide races in two other key states. Four county Republican parties in Arizona filed suit on Wednesday to prevent county recorders from trying to verify signatures after polls closed for mail-in ballots in a U.S. Senate race in which Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, pulled into the lead over Republican Rep. Martha McSally, on Thursday night.

In Georgia, the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who is hoping to trigger a runoff election with Republican Brian Kemp, filed a federal lawsuit to allow for the counting of absentee ballots received before the close of business today. Kemp had overseen the election as Georgia’s secretary of state before resigning the post on Thursday.

Common Cause, a civil rights group, is seeking emergency relief that will give it more time to investigate all provisional ballots. The group also wants a federal judge to order Georgia to count all provisional ballots, unless the state proves that a voter was not eligible or did not register in time.

A runoff would be called in Georgia if neither candidate exceeds 50 percent of the vote. As of Thursday night, Kemp stood at 50.33 percent and Abrams at 48.7 percent.

The campaigns for Nelson and Gillum in Florida have become more optimistic in recent days as newly counted votes in Broward County increased their totals. They have put the state on notice that they plan to aggressively monitor any recounts.

“We believe at the end of the day, Senator Nelson is going to be declared the winner and is going to return to the United States Senate,” Marc Elias, an election lawyer representingthe Nelson campaign, said in a conference call on Thursday morning. “I think it’s fair to say right now the results of the 2018 Senate election are unknown.”

Republicans in the state immediately attacked Elias, with Scott’s campaign calling him a “hired gun from Washington, D.C.”

“Let’s be clear: When Elias says ‘win,’ he means ‘steal,’ ” the Scott campaign wrote in an email to reporters right after the call.

The state’s other senator, Republican Marco Rubio, also accused Nelson’s team of trying to “steal” the election.

“Now democrat lawyers are descending on #Florida. They have been very clear they aren’t here to make sure every vote is counted,” Rubio added in one of a series of tweets. “They are here to change the results of election; & #Broward is where they plan to do it.”

Later in the day, Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, attacked the local elections supervisor for the time it was taking Broward to count ballots.

“What’s happening in Florida is unacceptable,” McDaniel wrote. “The #Broward Elections Supervisor has been pulling stunts like this for years and we’re not going to let her get away with it.”

The stakes were evident when the Gillum campaign, in a rare exercise in American politics, backed away from the candidate’s election night concession.

“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count,” Gillum spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said in a statement. “Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported.”

Elias said in the call that Democrats tend to gain votes in hand recounts. “It’s a jump ball,” he said of the Senate race.

Problems with delayed ballot reporting in Democratic-leaning Broward County, the epicenter of the recount dispute during the 2000 presidential election, have added suspense to the uncertainty.

Election supervisors have until noon on Saturday to finish their initial count, which will determine whether a recount will be ordered.