Re­counts or­dered in three Fla. races

Votes will be tal­lied again for U.S. Se­nate, gover­nor, agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Gray Rohrer, Larry Barszewski and Skyler Swisher Or­lando Sen­tinel and South Florida Sun Sen­tinel

Florida Sec­re­tary of State Ken Det­zner or­dered re­counts for three statewide elec­tions Satur­day, plac­ing the state in the na­tional spot­light once again as law­suits, heated rhetoric, and claims of voter fraud and “steal­ing” the elec­tion called to mind the drama of the 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion re­count.

Det­zner’s or­der trig­gered a ma­chine re­count for the U.S. Se­nate race be­tween GOP Gov. Rick Scott and in­cum­bent Demo­crat Bill Nel­son; for the gover­nor’s race be­tween Repub­li­can Ron DeSan­tis and Demo­crat An­drew Gil­lum; and for the agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner race fea­tur­ing Demo­crat Nikki Fried and Repub­li­can state Rep. Matt Cald­well.

Scott spokesman Chris Hart­line said Scott’s mar­gin over Nel­son of 12,562 votes,

or 0.15 per­cent­age points, “is larger than any re­count since 2000 has ever closed. … It’s time for Sen. Nel­son to ac­cept re­al­ity and spare the state of Florida the time, ex­pense and dis­cord of a re­count.”

Nel­son, whose cam­paign had un­suc­cess­fully sought an in­junc­tion to ex­tend the Satur­day dead­line, said in a state­ment, “This process is about one thing: mak­ing sure ev­ery le­gal bal­lot is counted and pro­tect­ing the right of ev­ery Florid­ian to par­tic­i­pate in our democ­racy.”

“We have ev­ery ex­pec­ta­tion the re­count will be full and fair and will con­tinue tak­ing ac­tion to en­sure ev­ery vote is counted with­out in­ter­fer­ence or ef­forts to un­der­mine the demo­cratic process,” said Nel­son. “We be­lieve when ev­ery le­gal bal­lot is counted we’ll win this elec­tion”

Gil­lum, who trails DeSan­tis by 33,694 votes, or 0.41 per­cent, chided GOP of­fi­cials for al­leg­ing voter fraud with­out ev­i­dence and urged all can­di­dates to tone down the rhetoric, even as he said he’ll pur­sue the re­count to en­sure ev­ery vote was counted.

“I am re­plac­ing my ear­lier con­ces­sion with an un­apolo­getic and un­com­pro­mised call to count ev­ery vote,” Gil­lum told re­porters Satur­day. He also said he’d ac­cept the re­sults of the re­count “as long as ev­ery vote is counted.” But his lawyer, Barry Richard, who rep­re­sented Ge­orge W. Bush in the 2000 re­count law­suits, wouldn’t rule out a law­suit af­ter the re­count re­sults.

“Mayor Gil­lum is not waiv­ing any right he has to en­sure all of the votes are counted,” Richard said. “We’re not go­ing to file a law­suit for no rea­son. On the other hand, if there are votes that were not counted even with the ma­chine re­count that might make a dif­fer­ence then we’ll look at that and take what­ever ac­tion is ap­pro­pri­ate.”

In his own state­ment Satur­day, DeSan­tis said the re­sults were “clear and un­am­bigu­ous, just as they were on Elec­tion Night.”

The agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner race was the clos­est of all, with Fried lead­ing Cald­well by 5,326 votes, or a 0.06 point mar­gin. Fried is­sued a state­ment Satur­day af­ter­noon pro­claim­ing “Vic­tory.”

“I am proud, hum­bled and hon­ored to be elected the first fe­male Com­mis­sioner of Agri­cul­ture in this state,” Fried said. “One rea­son why I ran was to show girls like my 9-year-old niece that there are no bar­ri­ers they can­not break — and noth­ing they can­not do.”

While votes had been coming in from all 67 coun­ties as can­vass­ing boards met to ap­prove or dis­al­low pro­vi­sional bal­lots, Palm Beach and Broward have been the cen­ter of at­ten­tion as the slow count­ing of votes led Scott and Repub­li­can al­lies to claim “ram­pant fraud” in those coun­ties. Cald­well had filed a law­suit against the Broward County elec­tions of­fice Fri­day, ask­ing courts to de­ter­mine if it “il­le­gally in­cluded bal­lots af­ter polls closed.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump also chimed in Satur­day, post­ing on Twit­ter, “Try­ing to STEAL two big elec­tions in Florida! We are watch­ing closely!”

How­ever, Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment spokesman Jeremy Burns said Fri­day the Florida Sec­re­tary of State told them “they had no in­di­ca­tions of fraud.”

Depart­ment of State of­fi­cials also con­firmed Satur­day that two elec­tion ob­servers sent to watch polling places in Broward County dur­ing the elec­tion have not wit­nessed voter fraud, but will work with the Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment if any cases arise.

“Depart­ment ob­servers con­tinue to mon­i­tor the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the elec­tion through the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of re­sults,” Depart­ment of State spokes­woman Sarah Rev­ell wrote in an email. “Our staff has seen no ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity at this time.”

Still, an email sent from Scott’s cam­paign, not the gover­nor’s of­fice, said Scott was “en­cour­ag­ing” Florida sher­iffs to “watch for any vi­o­la­tions and take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion.”

The re­counts have al­ready spurred four law­suits, and the ir­reg­u­lar vote count­ing sched­ules kept by Palm Beach and Broward coun­ties are be­com­ing na­tional punch­lines, but Richard said the 2018 re­counts are much dif­fer­ent than the

2000 ver­sion.

Af­ter the 2000 elec­tion, Florida law­mak­ers passed a law mak­ing re­counts au­to­matic for elec­tions within

0.5 per­cent, and there are no “but­ter­fly bal­lots” and no hang­ing chads this time around.

“I’ve learned from prior ex­pe­ri­ence that it’s al­ways more com­pli­cated than those of us watch­ing it think it is,” Richard said. “But I will tell you it’s far, far less com­pli­cated than it was in

2000. The votes are ei­ther there or they’re not there.”

For the ma­chine re­counts, county elec­tion of­fi­cials will feed bal­lots into ma­chines, a process which will be­gin in Broward County Sun­day morn­ing and on Mon­day in Or­ange County. The sec­ond round of re­sults is due to the state by 3 p.m. Thurs­day. If the re­sults show a mar­gin of

0.25 per­cent or less, a hand re­count is or­dered.

A hand re­count con­sists of count­ing only bal­lots that weren’t counted by the ma­chines – over­votes and un­der­votes. An un­der­vote is when a voter doesn’t make a se­lec­tion in a race, and an over­vote is when a voter fills in more than one op­tion in a race. Some­times a voter will try to cir­cle their op­tion in­stead of fill­ing out their se­lec­tion, so lo­cal can­vass­ing boards will try to de­ter­mine “voter in­tent” by re­view­ing the votes.

The big­gest ques­tion in the Se­nate re­count is the

24,000 vot­ers in Broward who cast bal­lots for the gover­nor’s race but not Se­nate. A faulty bal­lot lay­out may have caused vot­ers to over­look the race, but Nel­son’s at­tor­ney, Marc Elias, doubted that the­ory and said he be­lieved votes may not have been picked up by scan­ners. If that was the case, a hand re­count could pick those up where a ma­chine count fails.

But there was also a dis­par­ity be­tween con­gres­sional districts in Broward, with fewer Se­nate votes in the dis­trict with no House race just be­low the Se­nate race on the bal­lot.

In its law­suit, Nel­son’s cam­paign also ar­gued the 67 coun­ties’ “stan­dard­less and in­con­sis­tent sig­na­ture­match­ing process” for voteby-mail and pro­vi­sional bal­lots has led to wildly dif­fer­ent rea­sons for coun­ties to re­ject bal­lots. Judge Robert Hin­kle set a hear­ing date for Wed­nes­day.

While Scott had suc­cess­fully sued the Palm Beach and Broward su­per­vi­sors of elec­tions seek­ing more trans­parency in the vote­count­ing process, the two coun­ties didn’t ini­tially com­ply.

In Broward, the over­all count sent to the state in­cluded 205 pro­vi­sional bal­lots that were opened and pro­cessed be­fore the Can­vass­ing Board had a chance to re­view their el­i­gi­bil­ity. The Can­vass­ing Board on Fri­day night re­jected about two dozen of those bal­lots, mostly be­cause sig­na­tures didn’t match those on file.

How­ever, be­cause the bal­lots can no longer be matched with the en­velopes, a Repub­li­can Party rep­re­sen­ta­tive said all the votes are spoiled. “It seems un­fair to me to dis­en­fran­chise 205 vot­ers at the ex­pense of a few vot­ers,” Snipes said.

In Palm Beach, a judge re­buked Palm Beach County’s elec­tions chief Su­san Bucher over her de­lay in turn­ing over du­pli­cated bal­lots sought by Scott’s Se­nate cam­paign.

“It’s my opin­ion, zip-adee-doo-dah has been done to com­ply,” Judge Krista Marx said.

Pro­test­ers greeted Bucher when she left the court­house, yelling that she “should be locked up.”

Both sides were seek­ing vol­un­teers for the next week. But de­spite the close­ness of the three statewide races, they weren’t the only ones headed to­ward a re­count. A state Se­nate race and two state House races will also go through the process, in­clud­ing Dis­trict 26 in Vo­lu­sia County be­tween Demo­cratic state Rep. Pa­trick Henry and Repub­li­can El­iz­a­beth Fet­ter­hoff. Henry trailed by 59 votes.

Or­lando Sen­tinel staff writer Steven Le­mon­gello con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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