Special Briefing: Florida Is Counting Its Votes Again

Special Briefing: Florida Is Counting Its Votes Again

Elections staff load ballots into machine as recounting is underway at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office on November 11, 2018 in Lauderhill, Florida. A statewide vote recount is being conducted to determine the races for governor, Senate, and agriculture commissioner.

SourceJoe Skipper/Getty

Why you should care

With prominent Republicans crying fraud, three Florida races are so close that they’ll automatically get machine recounts

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, conceded to his opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis, after Tuesday’s midterm elections. But Gillum retracted his concession on Saturday: With late-counted votes in Democratic stronghold counties included, DeSantis’ lead had dwindled to just 34,000 votes, placing the gubernatorial race — along with those for senator and commissioner of agriculture — within the half-percent margin for an automatic recount.

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Protesters in support of Desantis and Gillum gather outside the Supervisor of Elections office in Broward County, Florida, where a recount is taking place for the Governor and Senator elections.

Source Emilee McGovern/Getty

Why does it matter? The call hasn’t sat well with some: Gov. Rick Scott, who’s leading the race for the Senate by just 13,000 votes, has filed suit to stop the recount. Both he and President Donald Trump have claimed that someone is trying to “steal” the election, and while they haven’t offered evidence for the accusation, such assertions could fuel conspiracy theories and erode voter trust. Meanwhile, neither Georgia’s gubernatorial race nor Arizona’s Senate contest has been decided, though counting continues — along with allegations of impropriety. If Scott loses the Senate seat to Democratic opponent Bill Nelson, it’ll keep Republicans from expanding their razor-thin Senate majority.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Every second counts. Democratic-leaning Palm Beach and Broward counties have taken center stage in the recount, and on Sunday the Palm Beach County election supervisor said finishing the job by a 3 p.m. Thursday deadline was “impossible.” If that happens, the tallies on file will be used, but GOP election officials predicted lawsuits will be filed if the original counts are used to certify their candidates. Palm Beach volunteers reportedly have just eight machines to count the hundreds of thousands of votes cast in the district. Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted Monday that vote counts were “massively infected,” suggesting voter fraud despite a lack of evidence, and called for the Republican candidates to be named the winners since an “honest vote count” wasn’t possible.

Not a good look. Although there’s no evidence of systematic voter fraud in Florida, there’s plenty of ammunition for politicians on both sides of the aisle when it comes to the slow pace of vote counting (and recounting). Election experts say taking multiple days to tally votes isn’t uncommon in large counties — during the 2000 presidential election, Florida’s electoral votes weren’t decided for 26 days, and then only by Supreme Court decision. That incident, along with lost ballots in 2004 and alleged irregularities in 2016, could dent voter confidence in the electoral process. Some even expect Gov. Scott to suspend Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes — appointed by Jeb Bush in 2003, then elected to four consecutive terms since — for incompetence, though others say she’s planning to quit.

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Mayor Andrew Gillum gets a standing ovation while addressing supporters and urging them to keep politically engaged as the Broward County of Supervisor of Elections Office has five days to recount votes.

Source Carl Juste/Getty

Why bother? Recounts are often mandated when a race is very close. In Florida, a machine recount occurs when candidates are within half a percent of each other, and a hand recount follows if the machine recount shows the margin is within 0.25 percent. But past recounts have rarely changed the outcomes. Research by FairVote found that out of 4,687 statewide general elections between 2000 and 2015, 27 were followed by recounts and only three of those changed the outcome. All three were Democratic wins: Al Franken’s 2008 Senate victory in Minnesota, Thomas M. Salmon’s win in a 2006 Vermont auditor election and Christine Gregoire’s successful 2004 bid for governor of Washington state.

State of play. Florida’s not the only battleground. Democratic Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema’s lead is growing over Republican Martha McSally in Arizona. That count is expected to wrap up by Thursday. And Georgia’s gubernatorial race is still going, with Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams refusing to concede to opponent Brian Kemp, despite his slight lead. If Kemp’s total falls below 50 percent of the vote — it’s currently at 50.3 — that’ll force a runoff, which could see Abrams become the country’s first Black female governor. Kemp’s team called their opponents “sore losers” and insisted there aren’t enough votes to be counted to make a difference. But Kemp’s lead has narrowed slightly since Election Day. Meanwhile, many in Georgia have expressed concern over what they say are voter suppression tactics overseen by Kemp himself during his recently ended tenure as secretary of state: Purges of hundreds of thousands of people, disproportionately minority citizens, from voter rolls … as well as allegations of limited resources and technical difficulties in areas with many Black voters on Election Day.

WHAT TO READ

Ghosts of 2000 Haunt Florida Recount, by Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon in Politico

“But one outstanding legal wrinkle remained before Saturday’s noon deadline approached: Could ballots counted after the deadline be counted toward the unofficial results that were already due, or would they not count at all?”

The Georgia Governor’s Race Has Brought Voter Suppression Into Full View, by Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic

“Georgia has lost almost a tenth of its polling places since 2012, with the majority of closings occurring in poor counties and those with significant African American populations.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Florida Orders Recount in Senate and Governor Races

“It is a mess down there. It’s like a banana republic.”

Watch on Fox News on YouTube:

Andrew Gillum Withdraws His Concession in Florida

“I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every single vote.”

Watch on CNN on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Design decision. In 2000, the so-called butterfly ballots may have caused fringe candidate Pat Buchanan to receive an outsize number of votes; confused citizens claimed they couldn’t follow the design. This year’s issue? Just over 26,000 people in Broward County, nearly 4 percent of voters, cast their ballots in the governor’s race but left the Senate boxes blank. Many are claiming that a confusing ballot design was to blame.

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