Fact-check: False Florida recount claims

CNN's Jake Tapper, in partnership with FactCheck.org, looks at claims from President Donald Trump around the Florida recount.

Posted: Nov 16, 2018 6:32 PM
Updated: Nov 16, 2018 6:59 PM

Based on the number of lawsuits, cable news coverage and overall drama coming out of Florida at the moment, you might think that the outcomes of the state's Senate and governor's races are balancing on a knife's edge -- with every judge's decision potentially making the difference between winning and losing.

The reality is, well, far from that.

Here's the thing: While the races for governor and, especially, Senate are quite close, the most likely outcome -- by far -- is that the Republican candidates who are leading now will wind up winning.

The difficulty in seeing this forest through the trees of drama is based on this reality: The margins in both races are very small but only as compared to the raw number of votes cast. In terms of the sorts of historical margins that we've seen recounts -- automatic or manual -- flip, these margins are nowhere near small enough to expect that outcome.

Let's go over the numbers first.

In the Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott (R) has 4,097,689 votes as compared to Sen. Bill Nelson's (D) 4,085,086. That's a margin for Scott of 12,603 votes. In the governor's race, former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) has 4,075,445 votes while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has 4,041,762. That's a 33,683-vote lead for DeSantis. Scott's margin amounts to 0.15% of all the votes cast (8,183,652) while DeSantis' edge is 0.41% of the 8,118,074 ballots cast in the governor's race.

Which is a SUPER SMALL margin.

But the vote gaps in the two races -- 12,000 and 33,000 -- are massive when you consider the history of modern recounts.

The most recent hugely high-profile recount happened a decade ago in Minnesota between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken. The state canvassing board showed Coleman with a 206-vote lead. A recount was triggered. Almost two months later -- in January 2009 -- Franken had the lead by 225 votes. After a HUGE amount of legal wrangling, Franken's final margin was finalized at 312 votes. From the beginning to the end of the process, the vote changed by 518 votes in Franken's favor. That was 0.01% of the 2,862,451 votes cast.

Four years earlier, the Washington state governor's race ended in a virtual tie between Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, and Republican Dino Rossi. Rossi was originally named the winner by a margin of 261 votes. A mandated machine recount narrowed Rossi's lead to 42 votes. Gregoire, with the help of a number of national Democrats who raised money for her, funded -- via the state party -- a manual recount. The manual recount ended 58 days after the election, and gave Gregoire a 129-vote final margin over Rossi. The total votes changed by the series of manual and automatic recounts was 390 total votes, or 0.01% of all ballots cast.

The point here is that in the two most recent statewide recounts of a major race -- for governor or Senate -- the starting margin between the two candidates was less than 300 votes. That's miles and miles away from where we are in either the Senate or governor's race in Florida. And, as Harry Enten notes in his terrific piece on why Nelson is going to need a miracle to win, the 2004 Washington governor's race and the 2008 Minnesota Senate race are not anomalous when it comes to recounts. Writes Harry:

"According to a FairVote database of statewide recounts from 2000 to 2015, the average recount moves the margin by 0.02 points. Nelson needs the margin to move by nearly eight times as much. ... In terms of pure votes, it doesn't look any better for Nelson. The average recount from 2000 to 2015 shifted the result by 282 votes. You don't need to be a math wizard to know that 282 is considerably less than 12,000. The maximum change in the margin in any recount from 2000 to 2015 was 1,247 votes."

Those facts -- and the long history of recounts changing only races in which the original count was extremely narrow -- get lost in the coverage of the various suits and countersuits both sides are lobbing at each other. President Donald Trump has added to the confusion by repeatedly insisting via Twitter that there is something nefarious going on in the state's MANDATED recount.

"The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged," tweeted Trump. "An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!"

Now. History is only predictive until it's not. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for one, seems to believe that Nelson will buck history. "When all the votes are counted in Florida, we could be just where we started at the beginning of the 115th Congress, with 48 members, even facing the worst map that we've ever had," the New York Democrat insisted.

Maybe! But a victory by Nelson or Gillum, given the margins they are trailing by, would be hugely out of step with what most recounts -- manual or machine -- produce.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 93087

Reported Deaths: 2809
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6956155
DeSoto539355
Harrison372772
Jackson337867
Madison320086
Rankin318875
Lee258567
Jones239978
Forrest238270
Washington217471
Lafayette207239
Lauderdale1994124
Bolivar179065
Oktibbeha174750
Lamar162134
Neshoba1534103
Panola144027
Sunflower141144
Lowndes139857
Warren138050
Leflore136280
Pontotoc122516
Pike120948
Monroe118365
Scott116125
Copiah115933
Coahoma112327
Holmes109158
Marshall107515
Lincoln106253
Grenada105335
Yazoo103629
Simpson101243
Union97824
Tate95137
Leake93937
Adams91736
Wayne87421
Pearl River86250
Marion84133
Prentiss80817
Covington80622
Alcorn76811
Newton75623
Itawamba75221
Tallahatchie74918
George74413
Winston72319
Tishomingo65737
Chickasaw65224
Tippah64216
Attala64125
Walthall59325
Clay57117
Hancock56121
Jasper54915
Noxubee54315
Clarke53539
Smith52114
Calhoun50612
Tunica47913
Montgomery45420
Claiborne45116
Lawrence42512
Yalobusha41614
Perry40617
Humphreys37315
Quitman3735
Stone35011
Greene34317
Webster33113
Jefferson Davis32511
Amite31210
Carroll31212
Wilkinson30217
Kemper28615
Sharkey26312
Jefferson2399
Benton2181
Franklin1893
Choctaw1785
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18911337
Mobile13039289
Montgomery8628173
Madison750775
Tuscaloosa7180114
Lee570559
Shelby564550
Baldwin504749
Marshall382143
Etowah333447
Calhoun332039
Morgan318126
Houston269922
Elmore251947
DeKalb234619
St. Clair221335
Walker220780
Talladega205026
Limestone197319
Cullman183017
Franklin174128
Dallas173626
Russell17112
Autauga167324
Lauderdale164133
Colbert159326
Escambia155725
Blount154214
Jackson149411
Chilton147127
Dale132743
Covington130227
Coffee12708
Pike11519
Tallapoosa113183
Chambers112342
Clarke104917
Marion93728
Butler90838
Barbour8307
Marengo69919
Winston69912
Lowndes64527
Pickens63114
Bibb62810
Hale61228
Randolph60712
Bullock58514
Lawrence58220
Monroe5758
Geneva5634
Cherokee55516
Washington54413
Perry5376
Clay5367
Wilcox53011
Conecuh52311
Crenshaw52231
Macon47620
Henry4674
Fayette4189
Sumter41819
Lamar3452
Choctaw34412
Cleburne3206
Greene30015
Coosa1613
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