Not done yet: State orders manual recount in US Senate, cabinet races

County officials must examine each ballot rejected by tabulating machines

By Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor, Jim Piggott - Reporter, Ryan Nobles, CNN, Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - About two hours after the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline for results of machine recounts, Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered a manual recount in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and a second, even closer contest for agriculture commissioner.

Both Scott and Nelson lost over 400 votes statewide in the statewide recount, but the margin between them remained under 13,000 votes out of more than 8.1 million ballots cast. Anything under the ¼ of 1 percent triggers a hand recount.

That process, individually examining the thousands of ballots the machines couldn't tabulate, will begin at 9 a.m. Friday in Duval County and most others in Florida. Duval County has 13,875 undervotes or overvotes, where the machine read either no vote in a race or marks selecting more than one candidate. 

Counties must complete the manual recount and report back to the Florida Division of Elections by Sunday. By law, the state to certify the election by Tuesday.

With the recount keeping Republican Ron DeSantis 33,683 votes ahead of Democrat Andrew Gillum -- outside the range for a manual recount -- the former congressman is virtually assured of winning the nationally watched governor's race.

Palm Beach County, which was granted and then denied an extension to the deadline, did not complete its machine count in time. 

"We gave it everything we had," Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said minutes after the deadline passed.

Lawsuit mania

The second recount ordered was just the latest development in Florida's recount drama. Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker extended a deadline to allow voters whose mail-in and provisional ballots had signature issues an extra two days to fix them. 

It was one of a half-dozen lawsuits filed in the race so far. Walker described his role in the rapidly increasing number of lawsuits related to the recount in "Star Trek" terms.

"I feel a little like Capt. Kirk in the episode where the Tribbles started multiplying," the judge said.

Palm Beach has been a serious problem since day one -- plagued with issues ranging from a system that won't allow all three races to be tabulated at the same time to machines breaking down and needing fixing. Not reporting its recount by the deadline, its numbers from the initial count will stand. That is not good for incumbent Nelson, who needs new tabulations in Democratic-heavy South Florida counties to make up his 13,000 vote deficit. 

It's important to remember that the path to victory for Nelson means winning these lawsuits -- including one filed late Thursday requiring a hand count of all of Palm Beach County's 595,840 ballots cast -- and winning those challenges in a way that thousands of votes are potentially added to the total.

Bill Nelson needs a miracle in Florida. It likely won't come.

Scott lost 418 votes in the recount, but Nelson lost 459 votes, so he'll have to look elsewhere to make up the difference.

Judge Walker ruled early Thursday that the state must give voters whose mismatched signatures disqualified their provisional and mail-in ballots until Saturday at 5 p.m. to correct those signature problems. But the ruling is narrower than the wider relief that Democrats were seeking -- to invalidate the signature-match requirement entirely.

And the number of ballots in question is unclear. Walker said in his ruling that there are about 5,000 total votes in play, but made it clear only people who were "belatedly notified" that there was a problem can seek relief. We don't know the full number impacted, but it is far less than the margin of votes separating him and Scott.

Walker also said Palm Beach could continue its machine recount beyond the Thursday deadline and report that Sunday when counties must report their final totals to the state, but state law does not require that to be accepted.

We have a governor-elect

No one expected the recount to sway the outcome of governor's race, and the machine totals kept him well above the 20,000-vote margin of victory that would have triggered the additional hand recount.

After the machine recount dimmed the faint hope of a Gillum surge at the end, the Tallahassee mayor continued to push, releasing a statement:

As today’s unofficial reports and recent court proceedings make clear, there are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted. We plan to do all we can to ensure that every voice is heard in this process. Voters need to know that their decision to participate in this election, and every election, matters. It is not over until every legally casted vote is counted.”

The numbers

Results of the machine recount from the counties came out in one big batch about 5 p.m. Thursday. 

In addition to the 0.15 percent margin in the Senate race triggering a manual recount, Democrat Nikki Fried was only 5,326 votes ahead of Republican Matt Caldwell -- 0.06 percent, causing that race to also be hand recounted.


What will we learn?

At a panel discussion Thursday that included a member of  Gillum’s campaign and a Republican and Democratic strategist, all three agreed these super-close election results were likely from the beginning because Florida’s population reflects the narrow political division in the country.

"I think we'll have a great opportunity in this legislative session to address some of these flaws, and I hope that we do that in a way that, next time -- because we're Florida there, there be a next time -- that we're a little bit more prepared," Republican strategist David Johnson said.

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