Lawsuits and recounts loom as slim margins in Florida governor's race tighten

click to enlarge Lawsuits and recounts loom as slim margins in Florida governor's race tighten
Photo by Joey Roulette

Florida's 2018 midterm elections are not over.

The margin between Ron DeSantis, the acknowledged winner of the Governor's mansion Tuesday night, and Andrew Gillum continues to narrow as the recount effort already underway in the U.S. Senate race closes in to Democrats' benefit.

The slim margin of 0.32 percent between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race triggered an automatic recount Wednesday morning, and as Democratic staffers scrambled to resurface thousands of provisional ballots around the state, the gap tightened to 0.26 percent — a roughly 25,000 change in votes between the two contenders that could require a hand recount if it hits below 0.25 percent.

"Historically we have seen that more Democrats are put into the provisional category than Republicans," Nelson's recount lawyer Marc Elias said Thursday during a press conference, adding that the forthcoming mass of provisional ballots may tip the election in Nelson's favor.

"Senator Nelson was down 50,000 votes at election night," and today he's trailing Scott by fewer than 22,000 votes, Elias said. "I expect that is going to close further as the day progresses today."

Nelson did not call for a recount; it's a legal procedure automatically triggered once a margin in any election sinks below half a percentage point.

tweet this
“We believe at the end of the day, Sen. Nelson is going to be declared the winner and return to the U.S. Senate,” Elias said.

The Governor's race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis may follow the Senate race mayhem. Nelson's push to revive provisional ballots is rippling in favor of Gillum, whose share of the gubernatorial vote simultaneously increased by nearly 4,000 on Wednesday.

DeSantis led Gillum by 1 percentage point on Tuesday night, leading to a quick concession from the Democratic candidate. But that margin has since been cut in half to 0.52 percent, just hundreds of votes away from triggering the legally necessary recount threshold of 0.5 percent.

A handful of precincts in Broward, a densely blue county in South Florida, are still counting early voting and absentee ballots. Neither Broward's election officials nor Nelson's campaign attorneys know how many ballots that amounts to, but some say it's between 50,000 and 100,000 — a surge that could decisively upend Tuesday night's unofficial conclusions.

Right now, staffers from Nelson and Gillum's campaigns are racing to find voters with provisional ballots and convince them to "cure" their votes by going to their county's elections supervisor.

Provisionals, which are ballots turned in by voters "whose eligibility cannot be determined" due to factors like ambiguous signatures or invalid forms of identification, can count as additional votes after election day if those ambiguous factors are cured, or rectified. Most provisional ballot voters need to manually seek out their elections supervisors to do this.

Identifying voters with provisional ballots is a challenge, and Nelson's team is requesting publicly available records from counties across the state to find them. "Where necessary we will sue to ensure that the rights of voters are protected," Elias said, expecting pushback on the hunt from counties unwilling to release the records.

While Nelson's campaign is expecting the margin to dip into the manual recount zone, Gillum's team is "monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount," Johanna Cervone, communications director for Gillum's campaign, said in a statement on Thursday.

"On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count," she added. "Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported."

Unless Gillum formally withdraws from the race in writing to the state, a recount could still flip the election. His election night concession to DeSantis was not legally binding.

Nelson's legal counsel is most concerned about a spike in under-voting — when voters turn out for down-ballot candidates and leave blank bigger races like Senate and governor — and unjustified rejections of mail-in ballots. While under-voting is common, Elias said, that type of under-voting in this year's midterm is "implausible," as an unusual amount of voters appeared to have skipped major races and voted more down-ballot.

"In Miami-Dade, there is history of rejections of mail ballots" that disproportionally affect minorities, Elias said. "Thats something we're looking at very carefully."

On the Republican side, Ron DeSantis has already empaneled a team of transition team advisers since his campaign declared victory Tuesday night. The cadre includes U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, an early DeSantis supporter representing Congressional District 1 in the Panhandle, and DeSantis campaign chair Susie Wiles, who in 2016 led President Trump's state campaign effort and took the wheel for DeSantis' bid for governor in September.

"It is sad and embarrassing that Bill Nelson would resort to these low tactics after the voters have clearly spoken," Rick Scott said in a statement on Thursday. "Maybe next, he'll start ranting that Russians stole the election from him."

Nelson's campaign team emphasized on Thursday that the Democrat did not call for a recount, and that it was rather a legally automatic procedure triggered once a margin sinks below half a percentage point.
Scroll to read more Orlando Area News articles


Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.