40 hours after polls close, Florida still counting

Obama leads by 47,000 votes out of 8.3 million cast

MIAMI - Two days after the polls closed across America, Florida is counting its final presidential ballots.

Most of the remaining ballots were counted Thursday in Miami-Dade County. The state's largest county had 30,000 absentee ballots dropped off on Election Day.. Combined with a tight race and lines that keep polling places open past midnight, that has delayed the announcement of a winner.

"The incidences that occurred in this election are unfortunate but the fact of the matter is we will use those lessons to improve upon already a very good process," said Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley. "We're not perfect but we're going to do our best to rectify for next time."

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has spoken out about the long waits to vote.
"The waits were way too far," Gimenez said. "And we've got to get some answers as to what happened. Why? Why wasn't it foreseen?"

Gimenez said he would ask Gov. Rick Scott to extend early voting hours in future elections.

Scott, who came under a barrage of criticism over the weekend for refusing to use his emergency powers to extend the number of days of early voting, said Wednesday he was willing to look at whether changes are needed to make voting go smoother.

Many other counties are also still counting votes, including Duval County, which hopes to finish going through the remaining 3,600 absentee and 6,000 provisional ballots by Saturday -- the day counties must report unofficial results to the state.

President Barack Obama leads the count 49.9 percent to Mitt Romney's 49.3 percent. That's a difference of about 47,000 votes out of 8.3 million cast and barely outside the 0.5 percent threshold that would trigger an automatic recount.

If he claims Florida's 29 electoral votes, Obama would increase his victory margin in the Electoral College to 332 to Romney's 206.

After months of being told over and over that the biggest swing state would be essential to a White House victory, Florida took too long to count the ballots and the race in Florida was simply too close to call.

The never-ending lines may have made it seem like everyone waited, but actually, about 38 percent of the votes were cast early before Election Day. Some absentee ballots were dropped off at the last moment, slowing the state's tally.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami said more people should vote by mail.

"I thank everyone who stood in line. Your vote was not in vain," she said. "You never knew how this election was going to turn up. We could have been today discussing 'Oh my gosh, when is Florida's vote going to come in?' And it could tip a balance for a candidate or against a candidate."

That was the case in 2000, an election marred by a lengthy recount of dimpled ballots and hanging chads. The Supreme Court declared Republican George W. Bush the winner by a scant 537 votes.

The margin between Obama and Romney was much more than that, but thousands of votes still had to be counted.

Susan McManus, a political science professor at University of South Florida, said that while Florida wasn't particularly relevant Tuesday, it' won't always be that way.

"That chemistry can change from one election to another," she said. "I don't think there's ever going to be an election with a competitive state like Florida that won't be a hard-fought place."

Some voters dismissed the idea that the Sunshine State has no electoral cache.

"No I don't think it was irrelevant," said Mike Ugart, who works in orthopedics. He said he waited three hours to vote in the Miami neighborhood of Country Walk. "Every last vote counts for the future. We gotta have it. It's part of our process. I'm not disenfranchised with Florida. We are lucky we can vote."

Anna Neill, 35, an attorney from Miami, said she felt the same, saying she was anxiously waiting Wednesday to make certain Obama won the state.

"It's very important to me that Florida is blue," she said.

Neill helped with the Obama campaign in the final three days of the election, canvassing door to door and last night at a polling station.

Wendy Wheaton, 37, voted in Santa Rosa County on Florida's Panhandle, which also was later than most in counting ballots. She said Americans just don't want to wait for results anymore.

"If you look back even 20 years ago, counting the votes was so much slower than it is now with today's technology," she said.

Copyright 2012 by News4Jax.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.