TALLAHASSEE — Potential recounts in Florida grew Thursday, with the governor’s race entering the range for an automatic recount two days after Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded to Republican opponent Ron DeSantis.
The race for state agriculture commissioner swung in favor of Democrat Nikki Fried over state Rep. Matt Caldwell, who declared victory on Tuesday.
And Sen. Bill Nelson’s recount lawyer predicted Thursday morning that the Democratic incumbent would emerge the victor over Gov. Rick Scott as ballots continue to be examined, particularly in heavily Democratic Palm Beach and Broward counties, in advance of an expected recount coming into play this weekend.
Nelson’s attorney Marc Elias, who has been involved in a number of recounts around the country, pointed to the on-going count of provisional ballots and ballots that may not have been properly scanned in South Florida.
The tabulation of those votes will continue to narrow Scott’s razor-thin lead over Nelson, Elias predicted. Scott’s election night 56,000 victory over Nelson shrank to just over 17,000 votes — within the .25 percent margin that sparks a manual recount — by Thursday afternoon.
“At this point I’m not prepared to say Sen. Nelson will be in the lead going into the recount, although I would say it’s a jump ball,” Elias said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
As Nelson’s legal team pushed forward, Scott’s campaign quickly derided Elias as a hired gun” seeking to “steal” an election Nelson “already lost.”
Yet, in a sign each side is digging in for a recount battle, both campaigns have requested the names of individuals that cast provisional ballots. Voters who cast provisional ballots had until 5 p.m. Thursday to provide verify their signatures with local elections officials, but the verification is not required.
County election canvassing boards, which determine whether the provisional ballots can be counted, have until noon Saturday to submit unofficial results to the state Division of Elections.
Contests with a margin of 0.5 percent or less qualify for an automatic machine recount by every county elections office involved in the contest. Hand recounts are required if the margin is .25 percent or less.
“At the end of the day, when all eligible voters have their votes counted and counted accurately, the fundamental truth that we’re going to learn is that more voters voted for Sen. Nelson than voted for Gov. Scott,” Elias said. “And there isn’t anything that I am going to be able to do about that. There isn’t anything that Gov. Scott and his millions of dollars are going to be able to do or Secretary (of State Ken) Detzner will be able to do about that.”
Gillum’s campaign issued a press release Thursday indicating it was ready to gear up for a possible recount, even though the Tallahassee mayor conceded the governor’s race Tuesday to DeSantis, a former congressman who had the support of President Donald Trump.
“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count,” the Gillum campaign statement said. “Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported. Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”
On Thursday, the governor’s race had narrowed to less than 40,000 votes, putting it into the margin requiring an automatic machine recount.
Machine recounts are to be completed by 3 p.m. on Nov. 15.
County canvassing boards must submit official returns from manual recounts to the state by noon on Nov. 18. In a manual recount, canvassing boards examine “undervotes” and “overvotes” on ballots rejected by voting machines.
The Florida Elections Canvassing Commission — comprised of Scott and two Cabinet members — is slated to meet Nov. 20 at 9 a.m. to certify the election results.
The League of Women Voters of Florida urged provisional voters to “cure their ballot,” noting that campaign requests for the names of provisional voters violates Florida’s Constitution, according to election officials.
“The LWV has long advocated for a thorough and accurate process of counting provisional ballots. All ballots must be counted,” League President Patricia Brigham said in a release Thursday. “We will be monitoring closely and taking further action as needed if necessary.”
In addition to the senatorial contest, recounts are expected in the state’s agriculture commissioner race and three state legislative races: Senate District 18 in Hillsborough County, in which Democratic challenger Janet Cruz leads incumbent Republican Dana Young; House District 26 in Volusia County, in which Republican Elizabeth Fetterhoff is ahead of incumbent Democrat Patrick Henry; and House District 89 in Palm Beach County, where Republican Mike Caruso held the lead over Democrat Jim Bonfiglio.
Nelson’s lawyer predicted the recounts would benefit other Democratic candidates as well as the incumbent senator.
“I am confident, based on the experience in virtually every state including some pretty red states, that provisional ballots, when they are counted, are going to break Democratic,” Elias said.
In the agriculture commissioner contest, Fried — who had trailed Caldwell by 4,000 votes on election night — held a 500-vote lead over Caldwell Thursday afternoon.
Fried, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale who lobbied for medical marijuana, is the one Democratic Cabinet candidate who did not concede as the unofficial election results were posted Tuesday night.
“We’re confident that by Saturday, when final results are certified, our lead will have grown, and the voters’ choice in the race for Agriculture Commissioner will be clear,” Fried said in a statement Thursday.
Elias said he expects vote totals to keep changing in Palm Beach and Broward counties, where “significant” numbers of vote-by-mail ballots continue to be counted. The lawyer said Miami-Dade County could face legal action regarding the rejection of minority voters’ mail-in ballots, if disparities are identified.
“We’re not going to stand by and allow people to be disenfranchised due to administrative processes that disadvantaged minority voters,” Elias said.
Before Elias’ press call was completed, Scott’s campaign issued a release condemning Nelson and his lawyer.
“This morning, Bill Nelson is introducing the people of Florida to Marc Elias, a hired gun from Washington, D.C. who will try to win an election for Nelson that Nelson has already lost,” the release stated.
“It is sad and embarrassing that Bill Nelson would resort to these low tactics after the voters have clearly spoken,” Scott’s campaign statement continued. “Maybe next, he’ll start ranting that Russians stole the election from him.”
But Elias told reporters there is no winner in the Senate race, yet.
“I think it is fair to say right now that the results of the 2018 Senate election are unknown, and you and the election officials should treat it as such,” Elias said.
Elias said he expects the margin between Scott and Nelson to stand at about 5,000 votes — out of at least 8.15 million votes cast statewide — by Saturday’s mid-day deadline.
“We know in Palm Beach County there are in excess of 10,000 that are going to be reviewed as part of the canvas process because they have stray marks or other write-ins that kept them from being properly scanned and counted,” Elias said. “I expect, based on past experience, that a substantial number of those will end up counted and, given how Palm Beach County as a whole voted, I suspect that will increase Sen. Nelson’s vote share.”