Florida buck­les up for elec­tion re­counts

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Frances Rob­les and Pa­tri­cia Mazzei

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Florida’s sec­re­tary of state or­dered ma­chine re­counts in three statewide races Satur­day, as tal­lies sub­mit­ted by the state’s 67 coun­ties showed the con­tests for Se­nate, gover­nor and agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner were too close to call.

Re­counts were also or­dered in a state Se­nate race and two con­tests for the state House.

“Florida has never had a full statewide re­count. It’s about to have three,” An­drew We­in­stein, na­tional co-chair­man for the Demo­cratic Lawyers Coun­cil, said on Twit­ter. “Buckle up.”

Some can­di­dates who saw com­fort­able mar­gins di­min­ish since Tues­day, as heav­ily Demo­cratic south­ern coun­ties con­tin­ued to process mailed and prob­lem bal­lots, cried fraud and filed law­suits.

Gov. Rick Scott, whose mar­gin in the race for the Se­nate nar­rowed to less than 13,000 votes, de­nounced the em­bat­tled Broward County elec­tions su­per­vi­sor, Brenda Snipes, who, the cam­paign said Fri­day night, still re­fused to con­firm whether she had counted all the bal­lots. Snipes was forced to ad­mit that she had in­ad­ver­tently tab­u­lated about a dozen re­jected bal­lots, which only fu­eled Repub­li­can ac­cu­sa­tions that her of­fice had botched the vote­count­ing process.

“Three days af­ter Elec­tion Day, the vote tally con­tin­ues to change and Su­per­vi­sor Snipes still re­fuses to ex­plain where and how the new votes came to light,” the cam­paign said in a state­ment. “The pub­lic de­serves a clear and di­rect an­swer.”

Scott urged sher­iff’s deputies to be on alert for any re­ports of vote-rig­ging.

As of noon Satur­day, the dead­line for the state’s coun­ties to hand in un­of­fi­cial re­sults, three statewide races re­mained un­der the 0.5 per­cent­age point mar­gin for a legally re­quired ma­chine re­count: the Se­nate race be­tween Scott, a Repub­li­can, and Sen. Bill Nel­son, a Demo­crat; the gover­nor’s race be­tween Ron DeSan­tis, a Repub­li­can, and An­drew Gil­lum, a Demo­crat; and the com­mis­sioner of agri­cul­ture race be­tween Nikki Fried, a Demo­crat, and Matt Cald­well, a Repub­li­can.

Sec­re­tary of State Ken Det­zner for­mally or­dered the re­counts Satur­day af­ter­noon. The new tal­lies were ex­pected to be­gin as early as Satur­day af­ter­noon in the state’s largest coun­ties, Mi­amiDade, Broward and Palm Beach. Other coun­ties A lawyer watches a vot­ing tech­ni­cian sort bal­lots at a Palm Beach Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions fa­cil­ity in Riviera Beach, Fla., on Satur­day. Florida Sec­re­tary of State Ken Det­zner for­mally or­dered re­counts Satur­day in elec­tions for Se­nate, gover­nor and agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner, as well as a state Se­nate race and two con­tests for the state House.

could also pro­ceed im­me­di­ately, though many were ex­pected to wait un­til Sun­day to be­gin.

Each county in Florida will have un­til Thurs­day to run all of its bal­lots through count­ing ma­chines again. At that point, any race that re­mains within a mar­gin of 0.25 of a per­cent­age point will have an­other three days, un­til next Sun­day, to con­duct a man­ual re­count.

Man­ual re­counts seem al­most cer­tain in the races for Se­nate and com­mis­sioner of agri­cul­ture, which are al­ready within that quar­ter-point mar­gin.

A man­ual re­count does not mean ev­ery bal­lot is counted by hand.

Only the votes that come up as an “un­der­vote” or “over­vote” get pulled for man­ual

re­view. For ex­am­ple, if a voter had put a check mark next to a can­di­date’s name in­stead of fill­ing the cir­cle out com­pletely, the ma­chine could have missed it.

In cases where the ma­chine de­tects that a per­son ac­tu­ally chose two peo­ple in the same race, a team of elec­tion work­ers looks at the bal­lot to see if the voter’s in­ten­tion was clear. The per­son could have crossed out one can­di­date’s name, so that bal­lot would likely be counted.

But sev­eral is­sues could arise dur­ing the process. Older count­ing ma­chines might be un­able to con­duct an un­prece­dented three statewide re­counts si­mul­ta­ne­ously, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to meet the state’s dead­line.

If a county is un­able to com­plete a re­count in any par­tic­u­lar race, Satur­day’s un­of­fi­cial re­sults from that county would stand for that race.

Brian Y. Sil­ber, a lawyer, went through an ex­haus­tive man­ual re­count this summer when a Broward County judge he rep­re­sented seemed to have lost on Elec­tion Day — only to wake up the next morn­ing to find that he had taken the lead. It took two days to get a new re­sult, he said, and that was with about a quar­ter of the num­ber of bal­lots that now must be re­viewed.

“I would be shocked, re­ally shocked, if there was ev­i­dence of fraud, con­spir­acy, any­thing il­le­gal or evil,” Sil­ber said. “What I gen­uinely be­lieve is that elec­tions of­fi­cials, for what­ever rea­son, are not get­ting it done on time. That’s a com­bi­na­tion of poor man­age­ment, un­der­fund­ing and un­der­staffing.”

The prob­lem has been go­ing on for years, he said.

He said Repub­li­cans had a savvy — al­beit mis­lead­ing — strat­egy to con­vince sup­port­ers in ad­vance that any loss would be at­trib­ut­able to mis­deeds by Democrats.

“It’s re­ally smart on the GOP’s part,” Sil­ber said. “They know there is no ev­i­dence of fraud.”

Daniel A. Smith, chair­man of the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment at the Univer­sity of Florida, said 41,000 Florid­i­ans re­quested mail-in bal­lots from over­seas, so elec­tions su­per­vi­sors were in­un­dated with bal­lots to count af­ter Elec­tion Day.

“My po­si­tion quite hon­estly is there is very low like­li­hood of fraud go­ing on any­where,” Smith said. “There is a ca­pac­ity is­sue when so many bal­lots come in on Elec­tion Day.”

Scott claimed fraud in Broward County even though the state was mon­i­tor­ing Snipes’ of­fice dur­ing the elec­tion. The state’s divi­sion of elec­tions as­signed two staffers to watch how the elec­tion was ad­min­is­tered, visit polling places and ob­serve the prepa­ra­tion of vot­ing equip­ment and pro­ce­dures.

The mon­i­tors made no re­ports of fraud.

The odds that Gil­lum, who trails by about 33,600 votes, or 0.41 per­cent­age points, and even Nel­son, who is be­hind by less than 13,000 votes, or about 0.15 per­cent­age points, will find them­selves on top af­ter a re­count seem low, ac­cord­ing to vet­er­ans of Florida’s pres­i­den­tial re­count in 2000.

Marc Elias, Nel­son’s at­tor­ney, has main­tained that a ma­chine er­ror might still ac­count for fewer votes for Nel­son — an is­sue that would only be caught in a man­ual re­count.

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