Florida Recount: Nine Things We Learned From 10 Days Of Vote Counting

By By Anthony Man and Skyler Swisher, Sun Sentinel

Candidates in close contests in Florida’s 2018 midterm elections have been trying everything — from divine intervention to judicial intervention.

Rather than concede, candidates behind in close contests sought whatever help they could get.

So many election-related lawsuits were in front of U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that he said he felt “a little like Captain Kirk in the [Star Trek] episode where the Tribbles started multiplying.”

Others sought intervention of a different kind. Andrew Gillum, the losing Democratic candidate for governor, appeared at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Boynton Beach on Monday and St. Mark AME Church in Orlando on Tuesday at an event called “Count Every Vote: A Faith Response to the Florida Recount.”

During this week’s vote recounting, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told reporters she was in “prayer mode” trying to finish by the critical deadline. (She didn’t make it.)

DeSantis wins — and looks like a winner

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis avoided the superheated rhetoric that has consumed fellow Republicans, namely outgoing Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump, as results from key Florida elections were unclear.

Scott and Trump engaged in scorched-earth rhetoric, amplified by Fox News, then repeated by the politicians, suggesting fraud and attempts by Democrats to steal elections.

DeSantis exemplified calm and focused attention on his transition to office.

No doubt it was easier for DeSantis than Scott. DeSantis always had a more comfortable lead over Democrat Andrew Gillum than Scott had over his election opponent, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

But there is no bigger Trump acolyte than DeSantis. He gained national prominence through appearances on Fox and support from Trump helped DeSantis win the Republican nomination for governor and the general election.

The lawyers win

The drawn-out vote counting in Florida, especially in the U.S. Senate race, has created a frenzy for election lawyers.

The most prominent national Democratic election lawyer, Marc Elias, is handling multiple lawsuits in which Nelson has challenged Florida rules in hopes that he can overtake Scott’s lead.

At one point, in a news conference call, Elias described four lawsuits the Democrats were pushing — and then criticized Scott’s team for filing lawsuits that he said were a distraction for election officials trying to get ballots counted.

Scott, Trump and other Republicans claimed that the Democratic lawyers were trying to steal the elections for the Democrats. But the Republicans also had plenty of highly placed (and well-compensated) lawyers on their side.

Familiar faces from the 2000 recount turned up in the 2018 recount. Among those joining the fight (and turning up on cable TV news channels) were Fort Lauderdale lawyers Mitchell Berger (Democrat) and Bill Scherer (Republican).

Gillum’s attorney is Barry Richard, who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 recount.

Gillum loses — but doesn’t look sore

Gillum’s future clearly would be brighter if he was preparing to take office as Florida’s next governor.

But the charismatic progressive came close — and elevated his profile among Democrats nationwide. Even though he lost the race for governor, he’s already the subject of talk that he could be a candidate for president — or tapped as a vice presidential candidate — in 2020.

He’ll have competition in the category of progressive-Democrat-who-lost-a-big-2018 race. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who lost his attempt to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is also getting 2020 buzz.

Gillum did retract his election-night concession and briefly returned to the campaign trail to deliver passionate pitches in South Florida during the initial recount. But he stayed away from the front lines of battle.

Still, he wasn’t officially giving up Thursday, even though the first recount — a machine review of ballots — showed him losing. He said vote counting should continue. “It is not over until every legally casted vote is counted,” he said in a statement.

Broward’s turnout wasn’t so bad

Initially, it appears as if Broward County voters once again performed abysmally — turning out far less than voters just about everywhere in the state.

But in the days since Nov. 6, Broward finished its vote counting, and the totals from the state’s second largest county don’t look nearly as bad.

Voter turnout as of Thursday afternoon was 60.8 percent in Broward, 56.9 percent in Miami-Dade County and 63.8 percent in Palm Beach County.

Statewide, turnout was 62.5 percent of registered voters. The numbers could change based on additional counting.

It’s important not just for local civic pride. Broward is the biggest bastion of Democratic votes in Florida. If its voters don’t go to the polls, it becomes much more difficult for the party’s candidates to win statewide office.

Instructions matter

The votes of thousands of Floridians won’t count because they didn’t follow voting instructions.

Among them: signing mail-in ballots. Ballots without signatures aren’t counted. Also, ballots need to be at county Supervisors of Elections Offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Postmarked ballots don’t count. If they don’t meet the deadline, they aren’t counted. (That rule is being challenged in federal court.)

And plenty of people don’t fill in the oval on the ballot (in Broward) or connect the arrow (in Palm Beach County) as explained in the instructions. If the intent of those voters can’t be determined during manual election recounts, their votes aren’t tallied.

Ballot design still an issue

Florida still hasn’t learned the lesson of the butterfly ballot debacle that led to chaos in the 2000 presidential election. Broward County’s ballot tucked the U.S. Senate race into the bottom left corner, possibly causing tens of thousands of voters to skip the race.

It hasn’t been determined whether design caused the discrepancy, but Broward’s ballot did not follow the best design practices set forth by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Red-hot rhetoric

Florida’s midterm election showed just how bitterly divided the country is. Politicians aren’t afraid to drum up concerns of fraud even when no evidence exists for such over-the-top claims.

Both Scott and Trump raised the prospect repeatedly that South Florida election officials were committing “rampant fraud,” even though state agencies said they hadn’t found any evidence of criminal activity.

Mounting distrust of institutions — fanned by elected leaders and social media — could play a role in the 2020 presidential election if races finish with similarly close margins.

‘Overtime count’ will make calling races harder

More people are voting by mail and casting provisional ballots. With greater reliance on those types of voting, it’s taking longer to count all the votes.

Changes in how we vote could result in more races being too close to call on election night, and voters might have to get used to waiting to hear which candidate won, said Edward B. Foley, an expert on election law at Ohio State University.

“A significant percentage of votes do not get counted on election night,” Foley said. “They are subject to what we colloquially call the overtime count. It’s a big transformation. We are really observing that disconnect this year.”

Heavy turnout — for conspiracy theorists

Theories about election wrongdoing proliferated in the days after Nov. 6.

The slow vote counting pace in Broward County made some people wonder what was going on. Scott, Rubio and Trump took to Twitter and television to warn that Democrats were attempting to steal elections, focusing their attention on Broward County.

And the power of social media to spread theories — including the incorrect assertions that boxes of provisional ballots were found at polling places after Election Day — further fueled notions of wrongdoing

Losing candidates stepped into the breach.

Tim Canova, a no party affiliation candidate, received just under 5 percent of the vote in his campaign against U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who received 58 percent. He labeled the results “absolutely ludicrous.” In an email to supporters he criticized “how open and blatant the rigging” was but didn’t offer evidence of rigging.

Carlos Reyes received 34 percent of the vote — 10 percentage points less than the winner — in the August Republican primary to nominate a challenger to Wasserman Schultz. This week, he joined election skeptics, suggesting — without offering evidence — that the primary might have been “fixed” by forces who feared he’d be formidable November candidate.

Staff writer Susannah Bryan contributed to this report.

This article provided by NewsEdge.