For the second time, Ron DeSantis can declare victory in the 2018 Florida governor’s race. Floridians will have to wait a little longer to get official word about who will be the state’s next agriculture commissioner and who will serve in the U.S. Senate.
The results of a state-ordered machine recount of the Nov. 6 election between DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum were released Thursday, showing the former Republican congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach maintained a nearly 34,000-vote lead over his rival, according to the state Division of Elections.
DeSantis, who is slated to become governor on Jan. 8, only lost one vote from his lead in unofficial results that triggered the machine recount. Such recounts are required when margins between candidates are 0.5 percent or less.
The recount gave DeSantis a 33,683-vote lead, compared to a 33,684-vote margin in the tally of unofficial results released Saturday. DeSantis maintained a 0.41 percent margin over Gillum, with 49.59 percent of the vote to Gillum’s 49.18, the recount showed.
“Those returns remain clear and unambiguous, just as they were on election night, and at every point throughout this process,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I remain humbled by your support and the great honor the people of Florida have shown me as I prepare to serve as your next governor.”
However, Gillum, who conceded the race on election night but later retracted his concession as the vote margin narrowed, indicated he is not ready to give up on the race.
“A vote denied is justice denied — the state of Florida must count every legally cast vote. As today’s unofficial reports and recent court proceedings make clear, there are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted,” Gillum said in a statement. “It is not over until every legally casted vote is counted.”
But unlike races for the U.S. Senate and state agriculture commissioner, which are headed for statewide manual recounts because the victory margins were less than 0.25 percent, the major vote counting in the governor’s race is over.
County elections officials are scheduled to file their official returns to the state by noon on Sunday, with the state Elections Canvassing Commission meeting Tuesday to certify the results.
A ruling Thursday by a federal judge leaves open the possibility of more votes in the governor’s race. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued an order giving potentially thousands of Florida voters a chance to fix their ballots by this weekend, if they were rejected because of mismatched signatures.
But Walker rejected a request from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is trailing Gov. Rick Scott by about 12,600 votes in their Senate race, to extend the recount deadlines. Several counties reported they were unable to complete the machine recounts by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline, including Palm Beach and Broward counties.
As of Thursday, Gillum had not filed any lawsuits contesting the election.
However, his lawyer, Barry Richard, told MSNBC earlier in the week that Gillum was “reviewing his options” on a lawsuit, expressing concern that the election showed that Florida’s laws are impacting “the fundamental right to vote.”
“He feels an obligation to ensure that votes are counted and not to sit back when we’re beginning to learn that they are not being counted for a number of reasons,” Richard told MSNBC.
Gillum would have up to 10 days following the certification of the election outcome on Tuesday to file a lawsuit contesting the results, according to state law.
In his statement, DeSantis said the election, which drew a record number of voters for a gubernatorial race, was a “vigorously debated” contest of ideas. But he said the campaign has to “give way to governing and bringing people together to secure Florida’s future.”
He extended an offer to Gillum to join him in “a conversation” about the state.
“We have both traveled the state and met Floridians from all walks of life. Sharing these experiences will, I believe, help us unite our state and build toward unity on behalf of the people of Florida,” DeSantis said.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Thursday that manual recounts of “overvotes” and “undervotes” will be required in the Scott-Nelson and Fried-Caldwell races, as the margins between candidates were below 0.25 percent after machine recounts in most counties.
The announcement came amid a series of legal battles that focus on the race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott continued to hold a lead after the machine recounts, as did Democrat Nikki Fried in her race against Republican Matt Caldwell for agriculture commissioner.
Manual recounts are also required in three state legislative races: in Hillsborough County’s Senate District 18, where Democratic challenger Janet Cruz leads incumbent Republican Dana Young; in Volusia County’s House District 26, where Republican Elizabeth Fetterhoff is ahead of incumbent Democrat Patrick Henry; and in Palm Beach County’s House District 89, where Republican Mike Caruso leads Democrat Jim Bonfiglio.
Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker rejected a request from the Nelson campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to extend recount deadlines because of problems in Palm Beach County. The machine recount deadline was 3 p.m. Thursday for results in the Nov. 6 elections.
Barring changes caused by other court rulings, the deadline for manual-recount results is noon Sunday. By then, county canvassing boards will have to determine the intentions of thousands of voters who caused their ballots to be set aside by tabulating machines because they skipped voting in contests — “undervotes” — or made ballot marks beyond what was required — “overvotes.”
Unofficial results Saturday showed Scott ahead by 12,562 votes, but that number increased slightly to 12,603 after the manual recounts. Palm Beach, Broward, Highlands, Hillsborough, Clay, DeSoto, Hardee and Lee counties did not post new numbers after the Saturday results.
At the same time, Fried, an attorney and lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, saw her Saturday lead drop by 21 votes, from 5,326 to 5,307, over Caldwell, a state House member from North Fort Myers. The two are trying to replace term-limited Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
More than an hour before the recount results were posted, Scott’s campaign sent out an email labeling him “Senator-elect.”
“Last week, Florida voters elected me as their next U.S. Senator and now the ballots have been counted twice,” Scott said in a statement. “I am incredibly proud and humbled by the opportunity to serve Florida in Washington. Our state needs to move forward. We need to put this election behind us, and it is time for Bill Nelson to respect the will of the voters and graciously bring this process to an end rather than proceed with yet another count of the votes — which will yield the same result, and bring more embarrassment to the state that we both love and have served.”
Rather than concede, Nelson’s lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, announced a lawsuit was being filed against Palm Beach County and the Florida secretary of state seeking to require a hand count of all ballots in the county “due to systematic machine failure during the machine recount.”
In a conference call with reporters, Elias said the campaign had sought all along the statewide manual recount. He contended the margin will go down “and ultimately disappear entirely” if vote-by-mail ballots that were cast before Election Day but arrived after a deadline are counted and as canvassing boards view the undervotes and overvotes.
“This is where people lay eyes on ballots and make determinations as to voter intent,” Elias said in a conference call with reporters. “Machines are wonderful counters for the vast majority of ballots, but there are going to be, and we know that there are, significant numbers of ballots, in the tens of thousands or higher, that the machines couldn’t read one way or the other.”
Elias said Broward County has about 23,000 undervotes and overvotes. Broward, which completed the machine recount, failed to get the updated numbers to the state before Thursday’s deadline.
Palm Beach County, using aging voting equipment, failed to complete the machine recount and resubmitted its earlier unofficial numbers.
Hillsborough County, which suffered a pair of power outages during its recount on Wednesday, also re-submitted its original unofficial numbers.
Even with the slight decline in overall numbers after the machine recount, Fried’s campaign declared victory, something Caldwell did on election night.
“Even though I will be the only member of my party on the Cabinet, I will govern based on my values and be a voice for priority issues that reach beyond partisanship, priorities shared by Floridians,” Fried said in a prepared statement.
However, Caldwell wasn’t ready to concede, vowing to “keeping fighting” while calling out Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.
“I am pleased the recount will move forward as we continue working to uncover the truth about what happened in Broward County, where over 80,000 ballots appeared without explanation in the vote tally after election night,” Caldwell said in a statement.
The Florida Elections Canvassing Commission is slated to meet Tuesday to certify the election results. Scott is a member of the commission, along with two Cabinet members, but he has said he intends to recuse himself from the panel.
–News Service of Florida