Florida readies for massive recount
The Senate race will be recounted, and the governor’s race could be close behind.
Election officials, campaign operatives and lawyers across Florida are gearing up for massive recounts in large part due to a familiar problem: Broward County, which has been saddled with election controversies ever since the disputed 2000 presidential race.
All eyes are on that problematic South Florida county – Florida’s second largest and one of its most Democratic – as it lags nearly every other in the state in reporting ballot tallies. The county’s results could help decide the races for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner, which are headed for recounts.
The pressure is especially intense because the outcomes of the battles between Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott for Senate and Rep. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for governor could have big implications for President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. Governors in particular play a crucial role in raising money and marshaling resources ahead of presidential elections.
On Wednesday alone, 22,000 new Broward votes were tallied, narrowing the margins further in Democrats’ favor in the races. And, thanks to Broward, the gubernatorial race on Thursday afternoon hit the threshold for a recount and Democrat Nikki Fried took the lead over Rep. Matt Caldwell in the agriculture commissioner race by a mere 583 votes.
With so much riding on the nation’s largest swing state – a U.S. Senate seat, a Florida Cabinet seat and perhaps a gubernatorial recount — Broward’s supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, won’t or can’t say how many ballots there are left to count.
Lawyers from both political parties and the campaigns of Scott, Nelson and agriculture commissioner candidates Caldwell and Fried are already being drafted for the recount fight, and Broward is looking like ground zero for that battle.
Marc Elias, the lawyer leading Nelson’s recount effort, said he had no idea how many ballots were left to be counted in Broward.
“I think you would have to ask them [Broward County,” Elias said. “I don’t know. They are still counting in Broward County.”
Another problem with Broward: about 24,000 more people voted for governor than for U.S. Senate – even though the Senate race was at the top of the ballot and top-of-the-ballot races usually rack up the most votes. More Broward voters cast ballots in the state’s agriculture commissioner, chief financial officer and attorney general races as well – a phenomenon seen in none of the other 66 counties.
Elections experts suspect that poor ballot design may have contributed to Broward undervoting the Senate race in such large numbers.
Elias, however, said Nelson isn’t challenging ballot design. Instead, he said Nelson’s team believes that the optical-scan machines didn’t pick up poorly marked ballots. If the ballots are re-scanned, Elias believes the chances of the votes being recorded increases.
In an extra twist, a teacher at Miramar Elementary School in the county, Lakeisha Sorey, said she noticed in the old cafeteria of the school that Broward elections workers left behind a box labeled “PROVISIONAL BALLOT BOX.” Sorey, who sent pictures of the box to POLITICO, said she alerted her principal, didn’t know whether it contained ballots and didn’t touch it because “I don’t want anybody to say I tampered with anything. But I want to make sure that if there are votes in there that they’re counted. … It makes me question everything that’s going on — just the fact that I want everyone’s vote to be counted”
Though there are no concrete figures regarding ballots left to be counted statewide, there are some clues that indicate tens of thousands could be left.
In Broward County, for instance, in the state agriculture commissioner race, which is the second statewide race already under recount, there are 23,000 vote-by-mail ballots reported to the state versus those counted. In that race, Fried pulled ahead of Caldwell Thursday afternoon after trailing him by only 4,094 votes hours before, which means it’s within the state’s 0.25 percentage point margin to force a hand recount.
At this point, Elias said the campaign thinks there was a large undervote in Broward County, or voters casting ballots that indicated they voted in other races but not the Senate race. As evidence, he points to the fact that nearly 14,000 more people in Broward County voted in the attorney general’s race than U.S. Senate race. The U.S. Senate race was a much more high-profile race, with candidates known statewide and tons more advertising, which makes fewer people voting in that race notable.
“That, frankly, is not plausible,” Elias said.