Florida Official Orders First-Ever Statewide Hand Recount for Senate Race

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., speaks during a roundtable discussion with education leaders from South Florida at the United Teachers of Dade headquarters, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, in Miami.
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered the first-ever statewide recount in the U.S. Senate race Thursday after a machine recount tallied over 8.3 million votes cast in the 2018 midterm election, according to reports.

Unofficial results posted on the Florida secretary of state’s website show that Republican Ron DeSantis is virtually assured of winning the nationally watched governor’s race over Democrat Andrew Gillum. Florida finished a machine recount Thursday that showed Gillum without enough votes to force a manual recount.

The margin between incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is still thin enough to trigger a second review. State law requires a hand recount of races with margins of 0.25 percentage points or less.

Tampa Times reports:

The order gives canvassing boards in the state’s 67 counties three days to pore over thousands of ballots that were rejected by machines because of “overvotes” — a voter appears to have chosen more than one candidate in a race — or “undervotes,” in which a voter appears to have skipped a race altogether. With the help of state guidelines, the canvassing boards, which are allowed to enlist the help of volunteers, will try to determine how these voters intended to vote.

It’s not entirely clear how many such overvotes and undervotes exist in the U. S. Senate race. A Times/Herald analysis of state and county data shows the number could be between 35,000 and 118,000 But the determination on how those ballots were cast — and the ability of the state’s elections supervisors to get through all the ballots — could go a long way toward deciding whether Nelson is reelected or Scott ascends from governor to U.S. Senator.

Counties have until Sunday to inspect the ballots that did not record a vote when put through the machines. Those ballots are re-examined to see whether the voter skipped the race or marked the ballot in a way that the machines cannot read but can be deciphered.

A federal judge on Thursday ruled against a request to extend the deadline for recounts in Florida’s U.S. Senate and governor midterm races.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker rejected a request by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and fellow Democrats to give counties more time to finish recounts.

“We have been the laughingstock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” Walker said in court.

Walker vented his anger at state lawmakers and Palm Beach County officials, saying they should have made sure they had enough equipment in place to handle this kind of a recount.

The overarching problem was created by the Florida Legislature, which Walker said passed a recount law that appears to run afoul of the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, by locking in procedures that do not allow for potential problems.

Florida’s 67 counties faced a 3:00 p.m. Thursday deadline to finish recounts that could determine the next senator and governor in one of America’s top political battlegrounds.

Palm Beach County’s election supervisor previously warned that the county will not be able to finish on time.

Susan Bucher defended her office Thursday morning, saying the incomplete recount was not “for lack of human effort.”

Bucher explained that the elections office in Riviera Beach shut down Wednesday night because “when you work about 45 hours in a row, you have to let people sleep.”

Bucher says she believes her office did everything it could despite not completing the U.S. Senate race recount.

She blames aging equipment for the delays in meeting Thursday’s deadline for machine recount results.

Six election-related lawsuits are pending in Tallahassee. Earlier Thursday, Walker ordered that voters be given until 5:00 p.m. Saturday to show a valid identification and fix their ballots if they have not been counted due to mismatched signatures.

State officials testified that nearly 4,000 mailed-in ballots were set aside because local officials decided the signature on the envelope did not match the signature on file. If those voters can prove their identity, their votes will now be counted and included in final official returns due from each county by noon Sunday.

Republicans say in their own lawsuits and motions that Democrats are trying to change the rules after the voting did not go their way.

“We will continue to fight to defend Florida law and uphold the will of the voters,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Scott.

Nelson and Democrats had wanted Walker to order the counting of all mail-in ballots rejected for a mismatched signature, arguing that local election officials are not handwriting experts.

Walker said he could not go along with that suggestion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

.