Gov. Rick Scott files a lawsuit against Florida counties for failing to provide records on outstanding ballots

Gov. Rick Scott files a lawsuit against Florida counties for failing to provide records on outstanding ballots
Gov. Rick Scott orders investigation of Florida election offices as tight race drags on
TALLAHASSEE, FLA.—Legal wrangling began in earnest in Florida on Thursday, as top political campaigns girded for the possibility of lengthy and expensive vote recounts in a Senate race that remains too close to call and, unexpectedly, also in the closely contested governor’s race.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, claimed victory in the Senate contest on Tuesday against Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent. But the vote gap between them has only narrowed since then, as the state’s largest counties have continued to tally ballots that were mailed in or cast on a provisional basis on Election Day.

The gap has also closed in the governor’s race, which is now in recount territory as well. Andrew Gillum, a Democrat, conceded to Ron DeSantis, a Republican, late Tuesday night, shortly before The Associated Press called the race for DeSantis. But DeSantis’ victory margin has since shrunk to 0.44 percentage points — 0.06 points below the recount threshold. DeSantis leads by more than 36,000 votes.

Florida’s 67 counties have until noon Saturday to submit their unofficial vote totals to the state’s division of elections. Four more contests — for state agriculture commissioner, one state Senate seat and two state House seats — are also likely to be headed for recounts. The lead in the agriculture commissioner race flipped on Thursday afternoon: Nikki Fried, a Democrat, moved ahead of Matt Caldwell, a Republican, by 2,884 votes.

In the governors race, the campaign of the Democratic candidate, Andrew Gillum, said it was preparing for a possible recount. He conceded to his Republican rival, Ron DeSantis, on Tuesday, although the race has since tightened. As of Thursday afternoon, DeSantis led Gillum by 0.47 of a percentage point.

The highest-profile recount possibility so far, however, is in the U.S. Senate race. As of Thursday night, 15,127 votes separated Scott and Nelson, a difference of 0.18 percentage points. Under Florida law, a margin smaller than 0.5 points prompts a machine recount, and a margin of 0.25 points or less requires a more thorough manual recount.

The results of the 2018 Senate election are unknown and I think that you and the elections officials should treat it as such, Elias told reporters in a conference call. We believe that at the end of this process that Senator Nelson is going to be declared the winner.

Of particular concern to Republicans is the slow pace of counting in Broward, the state’s second most populous county, where a court ruled in May that the office of the elections supervisor, Brenda Snipes, had illegally destroyed some ballots from a 2016 congressional race. Results from Broward so far indicate that nearly 25,000 people cast votes for governor but not for senator.

Scott said at a news conference on Thursday night that he was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections offices in the Democratic strongholds of Palm Beach and Broward counties, questioning whether they were trying to inflate the Democratic vote.

Once counties report their unofficial totals to the state Saturday, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, an appointee of Scott, will be able to order any of the legally mandated recounts.

A statewide machine recount would have to be completed by 3 p.m. Nov. 15, Elias said. If that process yields a margin of less than 0.25 percentage points in any federal or state races, then Detzner would order manual recounts in those races of what are known as undervotes and overvotes; the recounts would have to be completed by Nov. 18.

Brenda Snipes, the Broward elections supervisor, said she did not know how many ballots remained to be counted, but all were being processed. She also did not know how many provisional, military and mismarked ballots needed to be counted.

TALLAHASSEE, FLA.—Legal wrangling began in earnest in Florida on Thursday, as top political campaigns girded for the possibility of lengthy and expensive vote recounts in a Senate race that remains too close to call and, unexpectedly, also in the closely contested governor’s race.

The Gillum statement said that since the concession speech "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."

Video: Senator Bill Nelson says he wants a recount

Candidate For Florida Governor Gillum Prepares For Recount

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, claimed victory in the Senate contest on Tuesday against Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent. But the vote gap between them has only narrowed since then, as the state’s largest counties have continued to tally ballots that were mailed in or cast on a provisional basis on Election Day.

Meanwhile, Florida's Senate race featuring Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson against Republican Rick Scott seemed to be heading for a recount, which is automatically triggered when the vote difference is less than 0.5 percent. It is currently .2 percent, fewer than 22,000 votes, according to NBC News.

The gap has also closed in the governor’s race, which is now in recount territory as well. Andrew Gillum, a Democrat, conceded to Ron DeSantis, a Republican, late Tuesday night, shortly before The Associated Press called the race for DeSantis. But DeSantis’ victory margin has since shrunk to 0.44 percentage points — 0.06 points below the recount threshold. DeSantis leads by more than 36,000 votes.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Nelson lawyer Marc Elias said that the race currently stands as a "jump ball" as counties around the state canvass their votes, but he believes Nelson will remain senator once the recount dust settles.

Florida’s 67 counties have until noon Saturday to submit their unofficial vote totals to the state’s division of elections. Four more contests — for state agriculture commissioner, one state Senate seat and two state House seats — are also likely to be headed for recounts. The lead in the agriculture commissioner race flipped on Thursday afternoon: Nikki Fried, a Democrat, moved ahead of Matt Caldwell, a Republican, by 2,884 votes.

The Scott campaign, for its part, released a statement Thursday attacking Nelson for hiring a D.C. lawyer in an attempt to "steal" the election. Scott declared victory Tuesday night, but NBC News has not yet called the race.

Video: Florida Senate Race Headed To Recount

Stacey Abrams Campaign Says Recount or Runoff is Possible—If All Georgia Votes Are Actually Counted—While Andrew Gillum Nears Recount in Florida

The highest-profile recount possibility so far, however, is in the U.S. Senate race. As of Thursday night, 15,127 votes separated Scott and Nelson, a difference of 0.18 percentage points. Under Florida law, a margin smaller than 0.5 points prompts a machine recount, and a margin of 0.25 points or less requires a more thorough manual recount.

NBC News has called DeSantis the "apparent" winner in the governor race, while votes are still being counted in places like Broward County and margins appear to be tightening slightly.

Of particular concern to Republicans is the slow pace of counting in Broward, the state’s second most populous county, where a court ruled in May that the office of the elections supervisor, Brenda Snipes, had illegally destroyed some ballots from a 2016 congressional race. Results from Broward so far indicate that nearly 25,000 people cast votes for governor but not for senator.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — All eyes were on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Thursday, as vote margins in Florida's close contests for governor and Senate tightened.

Once counties report their unofficial totals to the state Saturday, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, an appointee of Scott, will be able to order any of the legally mandated recounts.

A statewide machine recount would have to be completed by 3 p.m. Nov. 15, Elias said. If that process yields a margin of less than 0.25 percentage points in any federal or state races, then Detzner would order manual recounts in those races of what are known as undervotes and overvotes; the recounts would have to be completed by Nov. 18.

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Recounts, runoffs loom over high-profile elections in Florida, Georgia

Florida faced the prospect of recounts in the razor-thin races for governor and U.S. Senate, potentially prolonging the battle over two of this year’s most-closely watched campaigns.

In the governor’s race, Democrat Andrew Gillum’s campaign said Thursday it’s prepared for a possible recount. He conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis on Tuesday night, though the margin of the race has since tightened. As of Thursday afternoon, DeSantis led Gillum by 0.47 percentage point.

But that doesnt mean these races in Florida arent close enough to become part of that statistic. Based on the numbers so far, there are a couple of reasons Democrats have hope in Florida: 1) Not all the votes have been counted — and those that remain to be counted are in Democratic strongholds; 2) the margins are so small that provisional ballots could have an impact here, and they often go toward Democrats.

Meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson has already begun preparing for a potential recount in a race still too close to call against Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Nelson’s lawyer called that race a “jump ball” – though Scott’s campaign urged Nelson to concede. Scott held a 0.21 percentage lead over Nelson on Thursday afternoon.

There are always mail-in ballots and provisional ballots that arent counted — due to a lack of ID or matching address — that can be counted if they are rechecked. Typically, voters are notified of errors and have to sign an affidavit curing the mistakes before Election Day. But there are always ballots turned in on Election Day that cant be re-checked, and people that cast provisional ballots.

The tight races underscored Florida’s status as a perennial swing state where elections are often decided by the thinnest of margins. Since 2000, when Florida decided the presidency by 537 votes in a contest that took more than five weeks to sort out, the state has seen many close elections, but never so many dead heats in one year.

For most election watchers, the idea of a Florida recount gives Democrats flashbacks to the 2000 presidential election, when George W. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore by 537 votes in Florida after a partial recount that was ultimately halted by the Supreme Court. One report after the race found that if the entire state had had a thorough recount under certain rules, Gore likely would have won.

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In Broward County, the second-most-populous county in southeastern Florida that covers part of the Miami metropolitan area, Nelson currently has won 69 percent of the votes and Gillum has won 68 percent; there are still early and absentee ballots and Election Day votes to be counted. The same goes for Palm Beach County, where Gillum and Nelson are the big favorites.

As outgoing governor, Scott said at a news conference Thursday night that he was ordering the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections offices in the Democratic strongholds of Palm Beach and Broward counties, accusing officials of failing to certify results while they continue to seek ballots for the results they want. Meanwhile, Senate candidate Scott filed a lawsuit demanding that the Broward County supervisor of elections be ordered to turn over several records detailing the counting and collection of ballots cast.

While the early results seemed to favor Democrats, Republicans, like in 2016, showed their might throughout the night and have held a very narrow lead since early Wednesday morning. But not all the votes have been counted yet — and some of the most populous counties in Florida dont even know how many more votes there are to count.

Floridas Race For Governor Is In Recount Territory

Nelson’s campaign released a statement saying Scott’s action appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation.

Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State, said she didn’t know of any other recount in a governor or Senate race in state history. She was researching the subject Thursday.

In his own words, Nelson's lawyer says this effort isn't about making sure every vote counts or getting a fair count, Scott spokesman Christ Hartline told the Sentinel. No, for Bill Nelson- the task is getting the win … no matter what. Let's be clear: When Elias says win, he means steal. It is sad and embarrassing that Bill Nelson would resort to these low tactics after the voters have clearly spoken.

Andrew Gillum campaign says its ready for any outcome, including a recount | WJAX-TV

Under Florida law, a recount is mandatory if the winning candidate’s margin is less than 0.5 percentage points when the first unofficial count is verified Saturday by Florida’s secretary of state.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson trails Republican Governor Rick Scott in the race by just 0.26 percent, a margin of fewer than 22,000 votes. If the race gets any closer, it will go to a hand recount rather than a machine recount. Nikki Fried, the Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, leads Republican Matt Caldwell by just 0.06 percent, just over 4,000 votes.

The Associated Press has called the governor’s race for DeSantis. If Saturday’s count shows DeSantis with a margin narrow enough to trigger a recount, AP will retract its call for DeSantis. It is AP policy not to call a race that is facing a recount.

If a machine recount is ordered, officials in each county must submit the second round of unofficial returns by Nov. 15, the Miami Herald reports. If a machine recount finds that one candidate is leading by 0.25 or less, a much more complicated and time-consuming manual hand recount may be triggered. In Florida, each of the state's 67 counties administer their own recounts.

In yet a third statewide seat – the Cabinet position of agriculture commissioner – the candidates were separated by 483 votes out of more than 8 million cast – a margin of 0.006 per cent.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that DeSantis leads Gillum by 0.52 percent, a margin of less than 43,000 votes. Any margin of 0.5 percent or lower triggers an automatic machine recount. American Urban Radio Networks correspondent April Ryan reported that Gillum's camp has claimed DeSantis' lead has shrunk to 15,000.

Gillum’s campaign said it’s monitoring the situation with an elections lawyer and readying for a possible state-mandated recount. He hired attorney Barry Richard, who represented President George W. Bush in the 2000 recount.

Its important every voter who cast a ballot has it counted and counted accurately, he said. We will not hesitate to address that in the courts. We will not allow people to be disenfranchised due to administrative procedures that disadvantage minority voters.

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“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count. Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported,” the campaign said. “We are committed to ensuring every single vote in Florida is counted.”

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At an event in Hialeah Gardens, DeSantis declined to discuss prospects for a recount, telling reporters he was “very proud to be elected.”

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“It’s a great honour,” he said. “We’re working really hard on the transition. We’ll let the lawyers do what they got to do. But, we’re good and look forward to serving.”

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis meets with Florida Council of 100

Florida was mocked for the way it handled the infamous 2000 recount, especially since there was no uniform process then on how to proceed. That has changed, with the Legislature passing a clear procedure on how a recount should be conducted.

“This is not like it was in 2000. There’s not a lot of room for strategy,” Richard said.

Elections officials in Broward County, where Democrats have a large advantage, were still reviewing ballots Thursday.

Recounts Expected for Floridas Senate and Governors Races

Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes said she didn’t know how many ballots remain to be counted, but all were being processed. She also did not know how many provisional, military and mismarked ballots need to be counted. Her department’s website said ballots cast on Election Day have been counted.

“The results of the 2018 Senate election are unknown and I think that you and the elections officials should treat it as such,” Elias told reporters on a conference call. “We believe that at the end of this process that Senator Nelson is going to be declared the winner.”

Scotts Senate win, at least four razor-thin state races, to be verified in recounts

“Let’s be clear: When Elias says ‘win,’ he means ‘steal.”‘ The campaign said in a statement. “It is sad and embarrassing that Bill Nelson would resort to these low tactics after the voters have clearly spoken.”

While the Senate and governor races drew national attention, a Florida Cabinet seat also will likely have a statewide recount.

In the agriculture commissioner race, Democrat Nikki Fried had a 483-vote lead over Republican state Rep. Rep. Matt Caldwell, or a difference of 0.006 percentage points – well within range of a hand recount.

Florida counties have until noon Saturday to submit unofficial election results to the Department of State. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was appointed by Scott, will review the results and decide whether to order recounts.

Associated Press writer Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale and Ellis Rua in Hialeah Gardens contributed to this report.