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Florida's Senate race heads to a hand recount

The Florida Senate race is headed to a hand recount after a machine review of the initial vote kept Democrat...

Posted: Nov 16, 2018 12:45 PM
Updated: Nov 16, 2018 12:45 PM

The Florida Senate race is headed to a hand recount after a machine review of the initial vote kept Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson narrowly behind his challenger, Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

But even though a recount will keep Nelson in the fight for at least another few days, his odds of winning might have been further narrowed on Thursday, when the machine recount — which ended at the 3 p.m. deadline — yielded a few dozen more votes for Scott, whose lead now stands at more than 12,600, or 0.15%.

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The race for governor remained outside the 0.25% margin required for a hand recount, meaning Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis will likely be the state's next chief executive over Democrat Andrew Gillum. The Tallahassee mayor, who picked up a single vote in the recount, revoked his concession last weekend and said on Thursday he would continue to push for all votes to be counted.

Election boards across the state have been using voting machines to recount ballots this week, with some of the larger counties working all day and through the night. When Thursday's deadline hit, three statewide races -- the contests between Nelson and Scott for Senate; Gillum and DeSantis for governor; and Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nikki Fried for agriculture commissioner -- were within the .5% margin required for a statewide machine recount.

Both the Senate and agricultural commissioner races are now headed to hand review of overvotes and undervotes, a more narrowly circumscribed but also potentially volatile pool of votes. These are ballots where the voter appeared to tick off more candidates than allowed (overvotes) or on which they voted for fewer candidates than allowed (undervotes).

Not all the counties met the deadline.

Palm Beach County failed to meet the recount deadline, meaning last week's unofficial count out of the county is the one that it will take into the next phase of recounts. In Broward County, the director of elections announced they uploaded their new recount totals to the secretary of state two minutes past the deadline, resulting in the secretary of state not accepting them and instead using Broward's first unofficial results from before the recount.

Hillsborough County said it did a full machine recount but chose to report its initial numbers, which were higher in aggregate, because the figures were so similar.

Hours before the machine recount cutoff, a federal judge in Tallahassee rejected a Democratic motion to extend the deadline beyond 3 p.m.

Nelson's campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had argued that all recount deadlines should be lifted for however long the counties determined necessary to conclude their work.

"The Florida legislature chose to define emergency narrowly -- only as an event that results or may result in substantial injury or harm to the population or substantial damage to or loss of property," Judge Mark Walker wrote in explaining his decision. "The emergency exception does not apply in this case, where the delay is the result of outdated and malfunctioning vote-counting technology."

Palm Beach County has been hampered repeatedly by faltering machinery and shoddy infrastructure.

Susan Bucher, the county's supervisor of elections, told reporters on Thursday she would take "full responsibility" if the county failed — as it eventually did -- to meet Thursday's deadline.

"It was not for lack of human effort ... it was so incredible, and I thank everybody who participated," she said. Bucher had told reporters a little more than 24 hours earlier that she was in "prayer mode." That seemed to be an upgrade on her predictions from earlier in the week, when on Sunday, hours after the recount began, she said that completing it on time would be "impossible."

Bucher's worries were compounded on Tuesday when the county's old and overheated machines malfunctioned, forcing officials to start their recount of early votes from scratch. By Wednesday, the already distant hopes of an on-time finish seemed to be slipping away.

CNN observed long stretches of inaction on the floor of the cavernous facility which has been occupied by reporters, lawyers and operatives from both parties, and volunteers who have been working -- when the hardware complies -- day and night.

Democratic attorney Marc Elias announced new legal action on Twitter fewer than 90 minutes after the deadline passed.

"We have sued Palm Beach County and the Florida Sec of State to require a hand count of all ballots in the county due to systematic machine failure during the machine recount," Nelson's top recount lawyer said.

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