Florida county unable to meet recount deadline

The election overseer for a critical county in Florida confirmed to CNN what observers in both parties had begun to predict: There is no way Palm Beach County's machine recount will be finished by the Thursday deadline.

Posted: Nov 16, 2018 1:35 AM
Updated: Nov 16, 2018 1:47 AM

It was already shaping up to be an important day in the recount saga for Florida's US Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner races, and now a federal judge has extended a deadline to allow voters whose mail-in and provisional ballots had signature issues more time to correct them.

Here's a look at where we begin the sixth day of the recount.

Deadline day

Florida's 67 counties must officially submit their numbers from the automatic machine recount by 3 p.m. ET. Those numbers will then be certified by the secretary of state. We expect that 66 out of 67 counties will get there with time to spare (that includes Broward).

There is one county, however, that could complicate things.

Palm Beach has been a serious problem since day one. They've been plagued with issues ranging from a system that won't allow all three races to be tabulated at the same time to machines breaking down and needing fixing. As it stands now, if Palm Beach cannot be done by 3 p.m., their numbers from the initial count will stand. That is not good for incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who needs new tabulations in Democratic-heavy counties with the hope votes will flip in his direction.

What about that extension?

The Nelson legal team has a lawsuit pending to allow the deadline for the recount to be extended in every single county. It looks like the only county impacted by that will be Palm Beach. The case is currently being considered by Judge Mark Walker in federal court. At any time Thursday, Walker could hand down a ruling that grants an extension that would give Palm Beach time to get their recount done. That ruling could be very important, but it is not the only one.

Lawsuit mania

In court on Wednesday, Walker described his role in the rapidly increasing number of lawsuits related to the recount in "Star Trek" terms.

"I feel a little like Captain Kirk in the episode where the Tribbles started multiplying," the judge said.

It's important to remember that the path to victory for Nelson means winning these lawsuits and winning them in a way that a whole host of new votes are potentially added to the total.

Already, Thursday's developments do not bode well for Nelson.

Walker ruled early Thursday that the state must give voters whose mismatched signatures disqualified their provisional and mail-in ballots until Saturday at 5 p.m. to correct those signature problems. But the ruling is narrower than the wider relief that Democrats were seeking -- to invalidate the signature-match requirement entirely. And the number of ballots in question is unclear. Judge Walker said in his ruling that there are about 5,000 total votes in play, but made it clear only people who were "belatedly notified" that there was a problem can seek relief. We don't know the full number impacted, but it is far less than the margin of votes separating him and his Republican challenger, Gov. Rick Scott.

The end of the governor's race

Thursday may be the day we can begin to feel comfortable calling Ron DeSantis governor-elect. We never expected the results of the governor's race to change, but the margin between the two candidates did end up in the recount territory. Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee, rescinded his concession, continued to give speeches and on Wednesday, ominously tweeted, "I believe that we will win." Thursday could bring the faint hope of a Gillum surge to an end. If the votes don't demonstrably change and the margin remains more than .25%, they will stop counting. The governor's race will be effectively over, if it wasn't already.

What to watch

The biggest moment on Thursday will likely be the finality of the first recount. The secretary of state is expected to post the results all in one big batch sometime after 3 p.m. Once those numbers are posted, we should receive the official word about which hand recounts will be ordered. It is very likely both the Senate race and the agriculture commissioner race will fall in that category. While we wait for the recount results, we will patiently refresh the federal court's website for updates from Walker's chamber.

Will he rule on any of these important cases? Will those rulings expand the pool of available votes or extend the amount of time the counties have to count their ballots? Those answers could all come on Thursday.

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