Recount ordered for U.S. Senate, governor, agriculture commissioner

Machine recount required by law when margin of victory is with 0.5%

By Terry Spencer and Brendan Farrington, Associated Press, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After the drama of election night and fierce battles about counting votes, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Saturday ordered recounts in high-stakes races for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner.

The orders, along with recounts slated in three legislative districts, were no surprise: State law requires “machine” recounts when the margins between candidates are 0.5 percent or less. Detzner's office was unaware of any other time either a governor race or U.S. Senate race required a recount, let alone both in the same election.

The unofficial results show that Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points, which will require a machine recount of ballots.

In the Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott's lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is less than 0.15 percentage points. If the margin remains less than 0.25 percent after the machine recount, a hand recount of ballots will be required before a winner can be named.

Saturday's development's return Florida to the center of a major political drama 18 years after an infamous presidential recount left control of the White House undecided for more than a month.

The latest recount underscores the deep divides plaguing one of the most critical states in American politics. Beyond determining the governorship, it will decide whether Nelson returns to Washington for a fourth term or whether Republicans will pad their majority in the Senate.

Florida's 67 counties must finish the machine recounts by 3 p.m. Thursday. Hand recounts will be reflected in official election results due Nov. 18. Some elections offices began the process Saturday afternoon. Others, including Jacksonville, will begin Sunday.

Gillum conceded to DeSantis on Tuesday night, but when the results began to narrow, he said that every vote should count and he's not expected to block a recount. DeSantis has said little about the recount and is instead proceeding as if he won the election, appointing a transition team and preparing to take office in January.

Gillum withdrew his concession Saturday afternoon. 

The battle for Nelson's Senate seat has been much more heated, with both sides filing lawsuits. Scott has said Nelson is trying to steal the election, while Nelson is accusing Scott of trying to stop elections officials from counting every ballot.

President Donald Trump has also weighed in on Florida's close elections.

Trump took Scott's side on Friday, telling reporters that the federal government could get involved and adding: "all of the sudden they are finding votes out of nowhere."

"What's going on in Florida is a disgrace," he said.

The scene was reminiscent of the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W. Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, and thus giving Bush the presidency.
  
Florida was mocked for the way it handled the infamous 2000 recount, especially since there was no uniform process then on how to proceed. That has changed, with the Legislature passing a clear procedure on how a recount should be conducted.
  
Florida is also conducting a hand recount in a third statewide race. Democrat Nikki Fried had a razor-thin lead over Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell in the race for agriculture commissioner, one of Florida's three Cabinet seats.
  
Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott says he is asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections offices in Palm Beach and Broward counties, questioning whether they were trying to inflate the Democratic vote. However, a spokeswoman for the agency said Friday that there were no credible allegations of fraud; therefore, no active investigation.

The governor, meanwhile, filed lawsuits in both counties seeking more information on how their ballots were being tallied. Nelson filed his own federal lawsuit Friday, seeking to postpone the Saturday deadline to submit unofficial election results.

Judges sided with Scott in rulings late Friday ordering election supervisors in the two counties to release information on ballot-counting sought by the governor.

Meanwhile, the Broward Canvassing Board met Friday to review ballots that had been initially deemed ineligible. Lawyers from the campaigns, journalists and citizens crowded into a room to observe the proceedings.

RECOUNT RULES: When does it begin? How is it run? When will we know

A third statewide race that could go to a recount -- the agriculture commissioner race between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell -- is the tightest of all, with Fried holding a 3,120-vote lead, a margin of 0.039 percent.

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