Probable Florida election recounts trigger flashbacks of 2000

CNN's Ryan Nobles reports.

Posted: Nov 11, 2018 11:44 AM
Updated: Nov 11, 2018 12:12 PM

State election officials are expected to announce on Saturday afternoon that the razor-thin races for governor, senator and agriculture commissioner will be reviewed in a series of automatically-triggered recounts.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is ahead of incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by about 15,000 votes, giving him a lead of less than .25%. The margin in the governor's race is larger, with Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis leading Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by about .4%, or nearly 36,000 votes.

Those numbers could change by around noon on Saturday, when the unofficial counts are due. If the current margins stay under .5% in any of the three statewide contests, then votes in those races will be recounted by machine. That recount must be finished by Thursday at 3 pm ET, at which point the state can order a hand recount of overvotes and undervotes in any race within .25%. An overvote means a voter selected more than the allotted options on the ballot; an undervote means a vote selected fewer than the available choices or, in these races, none.

The Senate race and the contest for agriculture commissioner currently fall within the .25% margin.

Detailed updates on the state of the race have been hard to come by, leading Scott to successfully sue top election officials in Broward and Palm Beach Counties for details on the total votes cast and how many of them had been canvassed.

In Broward, Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes turned over information to Scott and his team for review late Friday. But before midnight, the campaign pushed out a new press release claiming Snipes had not fully complied with the court order "because she refuses to confirm whether or not additional ballots exist that must be counted."

Adding to Broward County's troubles, a CNN analysis of votes cast there suggests that ballot design could be responsible for a substantial difference in the number of votes cast between the race for governor and the race for senator in Florida.

There is also lingering drama in Palm Beach County, where Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher missed a similar deadline entirely. She has asked for an emergency hearing. Earlier in the day, Bucher had been ordered by a judge to find and produce ballots she and her staff had invalidated without consulting a canvassing board. She now has until noon to comply.

While the politicians tweeted and activists announced new protests this weekend, demonstrators on the streets outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office targeted Snipes, chanting "lock her up" and "fake votes don't count" as she and others worked inside trying to finish the initial vote count. "Make America Great Again" and "Trump 2020" signs and hats were also visible as a group carrying signs supporting Scott and DeSantis were met by another backing the Democrats, as nose-to-nose screaming matches nearly escalated into physical altercations.

Scott escalated already rising tensions across the state on Thursday night, when in a news conference he took a page from President Donald Trump and, without citing any evidence, accused "left-wing activists in Broward County" of trying to steal the election for Nelson. The county, in deep-blue portion of South Florida, is notoriously slow in counting its votes and as its tally mounted, Scott's lead had predictably diminished. In a series of tweets on Friday, Trump picked up the thread and accused the Democrats of attempting "Election Theft in Broward and Palm Beach Counties."

But Scott's request for an investigation into election-related fraud did not go far. On Friday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it was told by the Department of State, which is run by a Republican Scott-appointee, that they had received "no allegation of criminal activity." Still, Scott's campaign issued an ominous-sounding statement on Saturday morning "encouraging every Florida Sheriff to watch for any violations and take appropriate action."

Meanwhile, Nelson's campaign filed suit against the state over its process for validating vote-by-mail ballots.

Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, who is running the Nelson recount effort, argued that Florida's signature matching process put an undue onus on the "untrained opinions" of poll workers, which led to a "complete lack of uniformity" in how the ballots were being judged.

"This serves as an outright disenfranchisement and burden on the right to vote," Elias told reporters on a call Friday.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has also injected himself into the fight, alleging -- like Scott and the President, with no proof -- that there are "shenanigans going on in Broward and Palm Beach" before suggesting in another tweet that a sinister cabal of liberals from Washington was at work trying to rig the election. In fact, out-of-state lawyers from both parties, including a handful who had significant roles 18 years ago, have been flocking to Florida ahead of the recount.

Around the state on Friday, allegations and rumors of misplaced or lost votes fueled simmering anger and confusion as the campaigns, lawyers, operatives and freelance rabble-rousers girded themselves for a re-run of the pitched partisan combat that took over the state during the 2000 presidential recount.

Outside a mail distribution center in Miami-Dade County, a group of activists with images they said showed undelivered ballots inside tried and failed to get a meeting with a supervisor. Later in the day, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service said it was "researching the matter to verify that all ballots have been handled in accordance to USPS service standards."

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