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Decision ’18: Machine recounts ordered in Florida U.S. Senate and governor’s races

Elections officials will send ballots through machines a second time and retabulate before Thursday

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Elections officials in all of Florida’s 67 counties will recount ballots in three razor-close statewide races, amid lawsuits, claims of fraud and partisan protests reminiscent of the 2000 presidential recount battle in the Sunshine State.

On Saturday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner, after unofficial results showed all three races within the 0.5 percent margin that triggers a recount under state law.

The deadline for completing the recount is Thursday.

In the Senate race, Republican Governor Rick Scott led Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson by just 13,200 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million votes cast, a margin of 0.16 percent.

In the governor’s race, Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 33,700 votes, a margin of 0.4 percent.

The third race headed for a recount is the contest for state agriculture commissioner, where Democrat Nikki Fried holds just a 5,300-vote lead over Republican Matt Caldwell.

Scott, DeSantis and Caldwell all led on election night but have seen their margins slip away as additional votes were reported in Broward and Palm Beach counties, both Democratic strongholds.

The slow vote-reporting process in those counties have prompted Republican officials to raise the specter of fraud, although claims of fraud have not yet been substantiated.

Scott sued election supervisors in both counties, saying he would “not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.” Nelson in turn sued Detzner over the process being used to verify signatures on mail-in and provisional ballots.

President Donald Trump has also been stirring the pot, taking time during a visit to France to tweet, “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”

Meanwhile, Gillum, who conceded to DeSantis on election night, took it back in a Saturday tweet: “I am replacing my earlier concession with an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote.”

After the recounts were ordered, protestors from both camps gathered outside the office of Broward County Supervisor of Election Brenda Snipes, whose handling of the election has come in for criticism. Pro-Republican protestors offered chants of “Lock Her Up,” an apparent reference to Snipes.

Broward begins its recount of more than 700,000 ballots on Sunday morning.

After Detzner ordered the recount, Scott’s campaign called on Nelson “to accept reality and spare the state of the Florida the time, expense and discord of a recount.” State law allows Nelson to call off the recount.

But Nelson was having none of it: “We believe when every legal ballot is counted we’ll win this election,” he said in a statement.

In Florida, voters mark ballots with a pen, which are then read by optical scanning equipment. During the recount, all of the ballots cast in the election will be run through tabulating machines a second time, except for ballots where voters did not vote in a race or voted for more than one candidate.

If any of the three races is within 0.25 percent after the machine recount, the overvotes and undervotes will be examined by hand to determine voter intent.

The recounts in this year’s statewide races would be the first triggered since Florida’s election laws were rewritten after the 2000 presidential election, in which Republican George W. Bush finished with a 500-vote lead over Democrat Al Gore.

Court battles and chaos ensued, as elections officials struggled to recount votes cast with punch cards in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. After an lengthy court fight that reached both the U.S. and Florida supreme courts, Bush was declared the winner.

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