2018 midterms

Overheated Machines, Dueling Deadlines, and Other News From the Latest Florida Recount

Ballots from Broward County, the epicenter of the fight over Florida’s first statewide recount. Photo: Joe Cavaretta/TNS via Getty Images

Bedeviled by human and mechanical errors and besieged by unfounded but loud accusations of fraud from their governor and their president, county election officials labored through Florida’s very first statewide election recount (the famous 2000 recount was in selected counties, and the U.S. Supreme Court short-circuited a statewide recount, effectively awarding the presidency to George W. Bush). They face a Thursday afternoon state-imposed deadline for finishing a machine recount of ballots for three races: senator, governor, and commissioner of agriculture. After that, any contests where the winning margin is under a quarter of a percent of the total vote will proceed to a hand recount where apparent anomalies (e.g., the sizable “undercount” of Senate votes in Broward County) that might have been produced by faulty machines will be resolved. At this point, the Senate race is the only one that qualifies for a hand recount.

But various counties are struggling to make the initial deadline. Most famously, Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) — whose longtime elected Democratic election supervisor, Brenda Snipes, has been under fire from Republicans Donald Trump, Governor Rick Scott, Senator Marco Rubio, and former governor Jeb Bush — didn’t begin its machine recount until yesterday, in contrast to neighboring Miami-Dade County, which got a head start. But as the Miami Herald explains, Broward could well get it done on time:

Broward has faster high-speed counting machines than Miami-Dade does, according to Miami-Dade officials familiar with both models.

Broward is using 12 of these high-speed counting machines to mow through the 700,000-plus ballots.

And staffers will work 12-hour shifts around the clock. For the August primary, Broward only had five high-speed machines. Snipes decided to buy three more (at $115,000 a pop) to beef up for Election Day, and another four are on loan from the manufacturer.

But in Palm Beach County, another large, Democratic-leaning jurisdiction on Florida’s Atlantic coast, election officials are being betrayed by worn-out machines, as the Herald reports:

Palm Beach County’s race to recount votes is heating up — literally.

The county’s decade-old ballot-counting machines overheated and gave incorrect totals, forcing the county to restart its recount of about 175,000 early votes, supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said Tuesday night.

The department has flown in mechanics to repair the machines.

“We’re disappointed by the mechanical problems that are going to cause a further delay in the recount,” Bucher told reporters. “It became evident through the vigorous pace of counting that the machines used for the recount were starting to get stressed.”

The mechanical failures cost the county a day in its race to meet the Thursday deadline, and that may mean it won’t reach it at all. A state judge initially ordered an extension of the deadline for Palm Beach, but the state GOP successfully intervened to remove the case to a federal court. Counties that haven’t finished their recounts by the deadline will have to report the numbers as they stood before that process began (though revised numbers may be included in the final, final state results, due on November 20).

But Democratic senator Bill Nelson, who trails Rick Scott by a mere 13,000 votes in the pre-recount results (out of 8.2 million ballots cast in Florida, has sued in federal court to extend the deadlines. A hearing will be held today.

And there are reports of potentially discriminatory election administration practices by the state’s governing Republicans, as noted by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum:

Mr. Gillum has raised his own claims of voting disparities. He cited a report that a handful of voters in Bay County, a predominantly white Gulf Coast area ravaged by Hurricane Michael last month, were allowed to cast votes by email or fax while voters in more diverse counties on Florida’s densely populated East coast were screened more rigorously.

All this chaos could become even more intense once the hand recount (again, which at this point only involves the governor’s race between Gillum and Ron DeSantis) begins; the deadline for completing that process is Sunday, November 18.

Unless the machine recount uncovers some unexpected anomalies, the key moment will probably be the hand recount in Broward. And if that changes any results, you can expect the “fraud” chorus from GOP pols in Tallahassee and Washington to arise anew. It’s a tradition among Florida Republicans, dating back to 2000.

Deadlines Loom As Florida Recounts Continue