If it’s Florida, it doesn’t add up

Count­ing goes on in gover­nor and Se­nate races — and oth­ers — as mar­gins tighten.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY STEVE CONTORNO Na­tional Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

Two days af­ter Florida’s elec­tion, a U.S. Se­nate seat re­mains in limbo, the gover­nor’s race moved to within re­count range and the Demo­cratic can­di­date for agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner as­sumed a nar­row lead.

Welcome to re­count-aged­don. Even for Florida, home to the most no­to­ri­ous re­count in mod­ern his­tory, this elec­tion is head­ing to­ward an un­prece­dented con­clu­sion. Three statewide races and three state­house races ap­pear headed to a re­count. Florida is in un­charted ter­ri­tory.

In two South Florida coun­ties, re­sults con­tin­ued to trickle in the Democrats’ fa­vor as work­ers made their way through thou­sands of un­counted bal­lots. Gov. Rick Scott an­nounced in a Thurs­day evening press con­fer­ence that he, as a can­di­date, is su­ing Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties for what he said is a lack of trans­parency.

For the first time since Tues­day night, Demo­crat An­drew Gil­lum inched close enough to Repub­li­can Ron DeSan­tis to force an au­to­matic re­count in the gover­nor’s race. As of Thurs­day evening, just 36,219 votes sep­a­rated the two in a race with 8.2 mil­lion bal­lots cast.

Mean­while, Scott, a Repub­li­can, saw his lead in the Se­nate race over Demo­crat Bill Nel­son shrink to 22,000 votes Thurs­day morn­ing. By the end of the

day, Nel­son trailed by just 15,079 votes and his team saw a path to vic­tory.

“At the end of this process Sen. Nel­son is go­ing to pre­vail,” said Marc Elias, a vet­eran Washington, D.C., re­count at­tor­ney hired by Nel­son. “I am very mea­sured in how I treat what I say. When I say it is cur­rently a jump ball . . . I mean that.”

Elias laid out three ar­eas where Nel­son could win enough votes to hold onto his Se­nate seat af­ter a re­count. They are: • Un­counted bal­lots in South Florida: Broward County, where Nel­son re­ceived 68.9 per­cent of the votes, was still count­ing early vot­ing and vote-by-mail bal­lots as of Thurs­day evening. Palm Beach County, where Nel­son re­ceived 58.4 per­cent of the votes, hadn’t fin­ished tab­u­lat­ing vote-by-mail bal­lots and won’t un­til to­day.

• Un­der­votes in the Se­nate race: In Broward County, about 707,000 peo­ple turned in bal­lots. But only 676,000 voted in the Se­nate race. That’s a 30,000vote dif­fer­ence, a re­mark­able dis­par­ity given the stakes in this race and the name recog­ni­tion of these of­fi­cials. By com­par­i­son, more peo­ple voted for Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer than U.S. Se­nate. Elias be­lieves the prob­lem was ma­chine-gen­er­ated and it would be reme­died in a re­count. The lo­cal elec­tion su­per­vi­sor dis­puted that pos­si­bil­ity. •Pro­vi­sional bal­lots: By Satur­day, all coun­ties will sub­mit their un­of­fi­cial elec­tion re­sults to the state, which will in­clude pro­vi­sional bal­lots sub­mit­ted by peo­ple who for­got an ID or voted at the wrong precinct. In 2016, vot­ers cast 24,460 pro­vi­sional bal­lots and 10,998 were counted. In most coun­ties that year, pro­vi­sional bal­lots tended to pro­duce out­comes con­sid­er­ably more fa­vor­able to Democrats than tra­di­tional bal­lots.

Democrats on Thurs­day scram­bled to get pro­vi­sional vot­ers to lo­cal county elec­tions of­fices to ver­ify their iden­ti­ties and ad­dresses by a 5 p.m. dead­line. Elec­tions of­fi­cials are also await­ing mail-in bal­lots from ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary, not due un­til Nov. 16.

Hills­bor­ough, Palm Beach and Mi­ami-Dade coun­ties to­gether sent 15,000 bal­lots over­seas and Repub­li­cans be­lieve these mil­i­tary vot­ers will boost their out­comes.

Still un­clear, too, is the sta­tus of thou­sands of ab­sen­tee bal­lots flagged for mis­matched sig­na­tures. Can­vass­ing boards around the state re­view these bal­lots and de­cide whether to ac­cept or re­ject them. That process has al­ready be­gun and may be com­plete in sev­eral places.

Lee County, for in­stance, threw out 358 bal­lots with what of­fi­cials deemed mis­matched sig­na­tures. Num­bers were not im­me­di­ately avail­able, though the Tampa Bay Times re­quested them from a num­ber of other su­per­vi­sors.

A ma­chine re­count could be­gin as early as Satur­day. Sec­re­tary of State Ken Det­zner, a Scott ap­pointee, be­gan pre­par­ing lo­cal elec­tions of­fi­cials Thurs­day for chaos to come.

“The re­counts will be na­tion­ally watched … (we’re) un­der a mi­cro­scope,” Det­zner said on a con­fer­ence call with coun­ties.

Repub­li­cans sought to cast a cloud over the en­tire post-Elec­tion Day process be­fore the re­counts pro­ceed. “Do the math,” was a fre­quent mantra from the GOP on so­cial me­dia. Scott’s cam­paign, as well as Sen. Marco Ru­bio, as­serted, with scant ev­i­dence, that Democrats were plot­ting to “steal” the elec­tion.

Adding to the un­ease, how­ever, is the source of the con­fu­sion and de­lays: Broward County. It’s an elec­tion of­fice in­fa­mous for its con­tro­ver­sies and ques­tion­able ad­min­is­tra­tion go­ing back to the Bush-Gore re­count.

“The Broward Elec­tions Su­per­vi­sor has been pulling stunts like this for years and we’re not go­ing to let her get away with it,” tweeted Ronna McDaniel, spokes­woman for the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

Su­per­vi­sor Brenda Snipes re­sponded that Broward is a heav­ily pop­u­lated place and it takes time to get through all the bal­lots.

On Tues­day, Scott claimed vic­tory at his Naples elec­tion rally even though no ma­jor news net­works had de­clared him the win­ner. The As­so­ci­ated Press still has not called the race.

Even though he is now within re­count range, Gil­lum still faces a steep climb to sup­plant DeSan­tis. Un­like in the Se­nate con­test, there is so far not a com­plaint about un­der­votes or sim­i­lar con­cerns in the gover­nor’s race.

“I would be dis­hon­est if I didn’t say this wasn’t hard,” Gil­lum said in Face­book video. “This is ex­tremely hard. But you know what, the fight for progress, the fight for change, the fight for what it is we want, it’s hard.”

DeSan­tis, speak­ing briefly with re­porters in Hialeah Gar­dens, said de­spite the po­ten­tial re­count process he was “look­ing for­ward to serv­ing” in of­fice.

“I’m proud to have been elected on Tues­day night. It’s a great honor,” he said. “We’re work­ing re­ally hard on the tran­si­tion. We’ll let the lawyers do what they got to do but we’re good.”

Democrats have moved ahead in one Cabi­net race be­fore the re­count be­gins: Com­mis­sioner of Agri­cul­ture.

Trail­ing on elec­tion night, Nikki Fried led Repub­li­can Matt Cald­well by 2,896 votes late Thurs­day.

The shift in for­tunes em­bold­ened Fried to de­clare vic­tory. The out­come re­mains un­cer­tain, but not this: Fried, who ran the most un­abashedly pro-mar­i­juana, pro­gun re­form cam­paign this cy­cle out­per­formed ev­ery other Demo­crat run­ning statewide.

If she hap­pens to be the lone Demo­crat to hold statewide of­fice by next year, she would in­stantly be­come a fron­trun­ner to chal­lenge DeSan­tis for gover­nor in 2022.

“Since the first re­turns came in on elec­tion night, we have said that see­ing through this process to the end, en­sur­ing ev­ery vote is counted so the voices of Florid­i­ans are heard, and their will is re­spected — is the top pri­or­ity,” Fried said Thurs­day.

A Tampa Se­nate race is also in re­count range. Demo­crat Rep. Janet Cruz leads in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Sen. Dana Young by 289 votes.

Two Florida House seats — in Vo­lu­sia and Palm Beach — likely will be de­cided by re­count, too.

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