Florida races head to recounts

 thehill.com  11/10/2018 5:34:42 PM 

Three statewide races in Florida are heading for recounts after a key deadline for county election officials to submit unofficial vote tallies came and went Saturday.

The first round of machine recounts, which must be completed by Thursday, sets up a bitter fight to the finish in Florida’s races for Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner.

The most closely watched recount is the Senate race between incumbent Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDozens of mail-in ballots sitting in Miami distribution center: report Election Countdown: Arizona Senate race still too close to call | Florida vote tally fight heats up | Trump calls for Abrams to 'move on' Nelson releases video: 'Rick Scott is trying to stop all the votes from being counted' MORE (D-Fla.) and Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who currently carries a narrow lead of roughly 12,500 votes — about 0.15 points.

In Florida, an automatic machine recount is triggered if two candidates are within 0.5 points of one another. If the candidates are within 0.25 points of one another after that machine recount is conducted, a hand recount is triggered.

The Senate race spiraled into a series of legal fights this week after Scott and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed lawsuits against election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties — both Democratic strongholds where vote counts continued to trickle in after Election Day.

Two judges handed Scott key legal wins in those cases on Friday. In Broward, Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ordered the county’s supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, to turn over voter information, including how many people cast ballots and how many votes remained to be counted.

Meanwhile, in Palm Beach, Judge Krista Marx ordered the county supervisor of elections, Susan Bucher, to release certain ballots that had been deemed defective to the canvassing board for final review.

Nelson’s campaign and the Democratic Executive Committee filed a lawsuit of their own on Friday against Florida’s Republican secretary of state, Ken Detzner.

That lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tallahassee, sought a uniform set of standards for canvassing boards to use to evaluate provisional ballots, as well as to postpone the noon Saturday deadline for counties to submit unofficial results to the state Division of Elections until after the case was heard.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle declined to postpone the Saturday deadline. He scheduled a hearing on the lawsuit’s challenge to how provisional ballots are evaluated for Wednesday.

The Senate race has prompted dueling accusations from Republicans and Democrats.

Scott and his allies have raised the prospect of fraud in the ballot-counting process in Broward and Palm Beach, with the governor calling on Saturday for Florida sheriffs to “watch for any violations during the recount process.”

Meanwhile, Nelson and Democrats have accused Scott of trying to prevent lawfully cast votes from being counted, arguing that a recount is necessary to ensure accuracy in the election results.

The race for Florida governor is also heading to a recount after unofficial results showed Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDozens of mail-in ballots sitting in Miami distribution center: report Florida prepares for bitter legal fight over votes Trump criticizes vote count in Arizona MORE separated by roughly 0.41 points.

Gillum conceded to DeSantis on Tuesday after returns showed him trailing by 1 point. But as new vote totals came in from Broward and Palm Beach on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, DeSantis’s lead dropped considerably, putting the race in recount territory.

The gubernatorial contest in Florida hasn’t seen the kind of legal jockeying that the Senate race has. Still, Gillum and his attorney, Barry Richard, are set to address the media Saturday afternoon.

The race for agriculture commissioner is also headed for a recount. Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell are separated by a scant 0.06 percentage points — a little more than 5,300 votes.

While that race hasn’t drawn the outsize national attention that Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial races have, agriculture commissioner is an influential, Cabinet-level position in the state with sweeping responsibilities. 

Caldwell followed in Scott’s footsteps on Friday, filing his own lawsuit against Snipes, asking that a court determine whether she illegally counted ballots received after polls closed on Tuesday.

Results of a machine recount must be submitted by 3 p.m. on Nov. 15, at which point a hand recount could be triggered and would have to be completed by Nov. 18. Final statewide results are set to be certified on Nov. 20.

-- Updated 1:05 p.m.

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