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Bay County accepted ballots through email—which state law doesn’t allow: report

Elections officials in Bay County, a Republican stronghold recently battered by Hurricane Michael, accepted votes via email.

The catch: That’s counter to state law.

NBC-7 WJHG interviewed Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen about how he dealt with voters displaced by Hurricane Michael.

Andersen said he worked with 147 voters who returned ballots by email using similar protocols to those used for military and overseas ballots to allow voters to sign an oath and verify their identities.

The county supervisor claims to NBC-7 he told Secretary of State Ken Detzner his intentions before Election Day.

“Anyone that feels in the devastation that we experienced and the categories or the limitations that we had on our citizens of Bay County, if you want to turn around and take these votes away from voters because it’s not the normal prescribed issue, I would just say you ought to be ashamed of yourselves because what we did is take care of voters,” Andersen told NBC-7.

“What we have is a signature for voters and at some point, if they want to come back and reverse that scenario, I can tell you that we have that in a condition that if a court says so, we can correct that. However, that would be a very, very sad thing to do based on what you think your race or your opponent or candidacy or whatever else, because guess what? Elections are for voters. Not for candidates and not for political parties.”

Andersen spoke at length on the matter to Florida Politics on Monday.

But state officials seemed displeased at reports of Bay County’s procedures.

“The Florida Department of State has received reports that the Bay County Supervisor of Elections allowed some voters to return their ballots via email and fax,” said Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell.

“Supervisors of Elections are independently elected constitutional officers and it is each Supervisors’ responsibility to adhere to the law at all times.”

After Michael struck the region, Florida officials eased early voting restrictions for eight counties, including Bay County, recovering from the storm.

Gov. Rick Scott bent some rules through an executive order signed Oct. 10.

But in a release in an election plan for storm-struck areas released by Detzner on Oct. 18, state officials explicitly reminded elections officials that voting by fax or email is not covered by Scott’s order.

“In the hardest hit areas, communication via phone, fax and email remains challenging and would be an unreliable method for returning ballots,” reads a media release.

“Additionally, past attempts by other states to allow voters impacted by natural disasters to fax or email ballots have been rife with issues. The Department is actively reviewing ways to provide more absentee ballots to those voters in the counties severely impacted by Hurricane Michael.”

And Bay County Republican Party Chairman James Waterstradt says he was not aware before the election of email ballots being allowed. He served as an election observer during the recount of votes, which concluded last night, and said the issue of email ballots never came up there.

“I’ve only heard anything about email in reference to military ballots,” Waterstradt said.

Scott, the Republican nominee for Senate, won Bay County with 46,646 votes over incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson’s 16,684 in the initial tabulation of votes.

Three statewide races in Florida went to recount after initial tabulation, drawing scrutiny to election irregularities in all counties.

Statewide, Scott leads Nelson by 12,562 votes, or 0.15 percent.

In the gubernatorial election, Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum by 33,684 votes, or 0.41 percent.

In the Agriculture Commissioner race, Democrat Nikki Fried leads Republican Matt Caldwell by 5,326 votes, or 0.06 percent.

Bay County has already completed its recount of the Senate race, and adjusted totals to report Scott winning 46,647 votes, one more than the initial count, while Nelson’s total remained at 16,684.

In the recount totals of the Governor’s race, DeSantis also picked up a single vote and won 45,695 votes in Bay County while Gillum’s total remained at 16,738.

In the Agriculture Commissioner recount, Fried picked up that one extra vote, and records now show she received 17,011 Bay County votes to Caldwell’s 45,730.

Lawyer says Andrew Gillum mulling legal action amid Florida recount

On MSNBC Monday morning, Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum‘s recount attorney, Barry Richard, suggested the gubernatorial candidate was seriously considering legal action.

Host Hallie Jackson noted that some counties will struggle to meet the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline for completing the recount.

Richard said that, if that happens, “the candidates involved have to decide which way to go.”

“I know that, in the case of Mayor Gillum, he has been reluctant to become involved in litigation,” he said. “But we are receiving an increasing amount of evidence that Florida’s effort to make the (elections) statutes more efficient has been done at the sacrifice of the fundamental right to vote.

“… He is reviewing his options,” Richard added, noting that Gillum has “always had the option” to file a lawsuit.

“Up until now, we have not been actively preparing to file one. But as of this morning,” Richard said, “we had a discussion in which he wants … advice regarding what options he has.

“What Mayor Gillum is concerned about,” he went on, “is whether or not it ultimately would affect his race, that he feels an obligation to ensure votes are counted, not to sit back when we are learning that they’re not being counted for a number of reasons. Not fraud, by the way, but the operation of the statutes.”

Gillum is down by nearly 34,000 votes currently.

“I don’t think he is being motivated right now by whether or not he will turn the election around,” Richard said. Rather, the concern is potential “disenfranchising of voters.”

Judge lays down law in Bill Nelson ballot lawsuit

A federal judge says he will subpoena Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley to testify at this Wednesday’s hearing in Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s lawsuit to count votes on provisional and mail ballots invalidated because of mismatched signatures.

“This court will elicit testimony from Mr. Earley to provide an example of one process a county supervisor of elections and county canvassing board use to determine whether a provisional or vote-by-mail ballot should be rejected for a signature mismatch,” Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in a procedural order entered Sunday night.

As of the first unofficial returns on Saturday, Nelson was behind 12,562 votes to Republican challenger Rick Scott — the state’s term-limited Governor — out of nearly 8.2 million cast. That margin of victory is within the 0.5 percent needed to trigger a statewide mandatory machine recount, which many counties began over the weekend.

Walker

“This court has done the same in the past and anticipates covering similar ground with Mr. Earley as it did in 2016 with the prior Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Mr. Ion Sancho,” he added.

That refers to a case resulting in his ordering that Florida voters be notified before Election Day and given a chance to prove who they are if their signatures on a vote-by-mail ballot did not match their voter registration forms.

As counties are starting or already in the middle of a mandated machine recount, Nelson’s federal lawsuit wants such mismatched signatures ballots to be counted.

Following Walker’s ruling, lawmakers passed and Gov. Scott signed into law a measure that lets voters “complete and submit an affidavit in order to cure (a) vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on the day before the election.”

But Nelson’s complaint against the state argues that rejecting ballots for mismatched signatures in the first place is unconstitutional.

That’s because it disenfranchises voters through a “demonstrably standardless, inconsistent, and unreliable signature matching process that has been shown to result in the disproportionate rejection of (vote-by-mail) and provisional ballots cast by ethnic and racial minorities, as well as young, first-time voters.”

Walker also directed Maria Matthews, director of the state’s Division of Elections, to be “prepared to discuss” several issues at the hearing:

— “Figures regarding the number of provisional and vote-by-mail ballots that have been rejected in the 2018 General Election for having a mismatched signature, by county.

 — “Any guidance the Division of Elections provides to county supervisors of elections and county canvassing boards to use to determine whether a provisional or vote-by-mail ballot should be rejected for a signature mismatch.

— “Whether provisional or vote-by-mail ballots that have been rejected in the 2018 General Election for a signature mismatch have been segregated and thus are easily accessible.”

Walker also asked lawyers to argue whether a state law that “provides electors and candidates a mechanism to challenge ballots as allegedly illegal—but does not provide electors and candidates an opportunity to challenge rejected ballots as legal—violates the First and/or Fourteenth Amendments.”

This order expresses no view on the ultimate issues to be decided, instead simply provides notice so that each side may be heard and prepared,” Walker wrote. 

The hearing will be in Tallahassee’s federal courthouse at 1 p.m. Wednesday, the day before counties must turn in results of machine recounts to the state.

The previous judge assigned the suit, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, took himself off the case because his “brother is a party to a lawsuit involving (Gov. Scott).”

Walker, an appointee of President Barack Obama, earlier this year became chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, which includes the Panhandle and Big Bend.

Walker has a history of ruling against the state on voting rights: Besides his 2016 injunction on ballot signatures, earlier this year he told state officials to overhaul Florida’s process of restoring felons’ voting rights, a move later reversed by a federal appeals court.

And he granted a preliminary injunction in a federal lawsuit over the state’s prohibition on early voting at college and university campuses.

Amid recount, Pam Bondi raises prosecution threat for Broward, Palm Beach officials

Outgoing Attorney General Pam Bondi on Sunday scolded the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for declining so far to investigate the tabulation of votes in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Bondi, a Tampa Republican, also demanded Secretary of State Ken Detzner report all election irregularities in the Democratic-leaning counties to the Office of Statewide Prosecution, which reports to her.

The state’s chief legal officer sent a letter to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen saying the law enforcement agency has an obligation to investigate now.

“I am deeply troubled by your announcement that you will not pursue any investigation or inquiry into clearly documented irregularities of election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties,” Bondi wrote.

In a separate letter, Bondi told Detzner to report “any indication creating a reasonable suspicion of potential criminal activity” on the part of Broward or Palm Beach elections officials to her office. (Both letters are also at the bottom of this post.)

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, as a U.S. Senate candidate and not as Governor, on Thursday announced a lawsuit against Broward and Palm Beach counties demanding records on the number of votes cast.

That came as continued votes caused his lead in a Senate race over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson to erode.

When final unofficial vote totals were reported to the Division of Elections by noon Saturday, Scott held a 12,562-vote, or 0.15 percent, lead in the Senate election—well with the 0.5 percent to trigger a statewide mandatory machine recount.

At a press conference, Scott also called on the FDLE to investigate irregularities in the two counties.

An FDLE spokesperson said they were “working with” Department of State officials but had not received any credible reports of elections fraud and would not investigate—at least not at that time.

“The FDLE communicated with the Department of State and they indicated at the time that they have no allegations of fraud,” FDLE spokesman Jeremy Burns said Friday afternoon.

“We offered our assistance in the event that any criminal allegations are identified, and we will remain in contact with them.”

Bondi’s letters came the same day that Scott filed an emergency complaint (see below) seeking to require that FDLE and local sheriff’s offices impound and secure all voting machines, tallies, and ballots in Broward and Palm Beach counties that are not actively in use.

Scott’s complaint also asks a judge to insist, in particular, that Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes not destroy any ballots and that Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher follow legal requirements for reviewing ballots.

In a statement, Democrats said such tactics showed an abuse of power by Scott.

“In suing to seize ballots and impound voting machines, Rick Scott is doing his best to impersonate Latin American dictators who have overthrown democracies in Venezuela and Cuba,” said Juan Peñalosa, the Florida Democratic Party’s executive director.

“The Governor is using his position to consolidate power by cutting at the very core of our Democracy.”

Declarations won’t win Florida election, so everyone just chill

Since declaring things seems to be the rage in the Florida election during these tense days, I am declaring everybody involved in the whacked-out mess needs to shut up.

Yes, it’s a debacle. More than likely some heads need to roll. But it wouldn’t hurt for those seeking some of the highest offices on the ballot to stop throwing around unproven charges of robbery and voter fraud before we even know who won.

We need more statesmen, less deep state, please.

No need to fire up the base with incendiary accusations you don’t have to back up. You’re not campaigning anymore. Let’s get through this.

We’ll start with Rick Scott and explain that just because you’re ahead and declare victory, it doesn’t mean you won. By that logic, a football game would end with time on the clock as long as his team was ahead, even if the other side was driving for the winning score. If officials won’t declare his team the winner until the game actually ends, they must be cheating.

That’s basically what Florida’s Governor sounds like with his protests that “unethical liberals” (proof, please?) are trying to steal his U.S. Senate race with Bill Nelson. Spewing dark conspiracy theories about the Broward elections office does no one any good.

That said, the Broward Keystone Kops approach to this Florida election is infuriating, and there is bipartisan support for using the word “incompetent” to describe that operation. But it’s a leap of serious proportions to go from that to some underhanded chicanery worthy of, oh, I don’t know, something the Russians would do.

While we’re at it, both sides in the Agriculture Commissioner’s race might also want to chill until the results are certified before declaring anything more than their love for Florida orange juice.

On election night, Republican Matt Caldwell decided he had seen enough and congratulated himself with this statement: “I am proud that Floridians have entrusted me to serve as their next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”

Um, not so fast sir. The sun may have come up the next morning but that didn’t mean all the votes had been counted. As that process wound on, Democrat Nikki Fried took the lead and, sure enough, declared victory. 

“The will of the voters was heard, and the people’s choice is clear. I’m humbled and honored to be elected Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as the first woman to have ever been elected to this position,” she said.

Not yet.

The only thing either side should be talking about now is how to ensure the multiple recounts that will determine Florida’s next Senator, Governor, and Agriculture Commissioner are done properly. Both sides have lawyered up as everyone settles in for Hanging Chad 2.0, so even when the recount is complete the outcome won’t be settled.

I sense a lot of new Ferraris are about to appear in the driveways of lawyers assigned to work on this case. They may be the only winners in this embarrassing process.

Maybe the state is too fractured for anything resembling unity to ever be possible. That’s the underplayed story after Tuesday’s vote. The Florida election affirmed what we already knew. It is basically 50-50, with both tribes dedicated to the utter destruction of the other.

No matter the outcome, half of the people in Florida are going to hate the other half. The answer from both parties seems to be a big so-what? As long as their side gets to call the shots, they figure it’s worth being loathed.

This may be the new normal.

Republicans will never accept a recount that doesn’t name Scott, Caldwell and Ron DeSantis as the winners. They will forever believe a rogue elections boss in Broward robbed them. I can almost hear the chant “lock her up, lock her up” being directed at Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes — and she does seem to routinely make a mess of these things.

The Miami Herald reported her office mixed more than a dozen rejected ballots with 200 good ones in this election.  A judge ruled she illegally destroyed paper ballots from the 2016 congressional election involving Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Democrats will never accept a result that doesn’t at least have Nelson and Fried winning — Gillum remains a bit of a long shot — because, well, they hate Republicans and don’t need much more reason to believe than that they were cheated.

Solution?

Hire lots of lawyers.

Oh wait, that already happened.

Well, I declare!

Election recount is ‘deja vu’ with added fuel

Democrats are holding rallies, demanding that every vote be counted. Republicans are raising the specter of fraud, accusing Democrats of attempting to “steal” elections. Lawsuits are grabbing headlines, and fundraising requests are flooding inboxes.

And folks on both sides of the aisle, including candidates, are recruiting attorneys and support staff to monitor activities in Florida’s 67 counties as officials recount votes from Tuesday’s elections.

The stakes aren’t as high as the first time the Sunshine State found itself the focus of an unwelcome elections spotlight nearly two decades ago, when the presidency hung in the balance.

But for many who participated in Florida’s protracted recount between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the partisan posturing now is a flashback to an equally divisive period in the nation’s history.

“It’s 2000 all over again, with the gasoline of digital and social media, which we didn’t have then, added to the fire,” Screven Watson, who served as the Florida Democratic Party’s executive director during Bush v. Gore, told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview Saturday.

Hanging chads are no longer an issue in Florida, but delays in vote totals in Democrat-rich Broward and Palm Beach counties have drawn the ire of Republicans such as Gov. Rick Scott, who saw his 56,000-vote advantage over U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on election night shrink to fewer than 13,000 votes by noon Saturday.

Scott said Thursday he asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to probe election wrongdoing in Broward and Palm Beach. A spokeswoman for the agency said Friday that, although FDLE is working with Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s office, there were no active investigations. Scott upped the ante by alerting county sheriffs to “be on the alert for any violations and take appropriate action.”

Nelson’s recount lawyer, Marc Elias, derided Scott’s FDLE request as indicative of a “Third World dictatorship.”

The rhetoric continued to build as the numbers narrowed, with Detzner on Saturday ultimately ordering recounts in the U.S. Senate race, the gubernatorial matchup between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democratic Andrew Gillum and the agriculture-commissioner race between Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nikki Fried.

Coinciding with a noon Saturday deadline for county elections offices to submit their preliminary results to the state, Scott’s campaign held a conference call with reporters and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who, like Scott, is closely aligned with President Donald Trump.

Graham said Republicans consider Scott the winner of the heated contest and launched into an indictment of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.

“People of Florida and throughout the nation are tired of all of these shenanigans coming out of Broward County,” Graham said. “I cannot tell you how upsetting it is to have two counties in your state of Florida constantly be a problem at every level. I know the people of Florida deserve better and quite frankly the people of the United States deserve better.”

Graham’s call came less than 24 hours after Nelson blasted an email to supporters seeking contributions to build up his legal fund in anticipation of an expensive recount.

“I need a miracle,” the subject line in Nelson’s fundraising alert read.

The results of a machine recount are due to Detzner’s office by 3 p.m. Thursday, and the matchup between Nelson and Scott appears headed to a manual recount after that. Machine recounts are required when the margins between candidates are 0.5 percent or less, while subsequent manual recounts are triggered when margins are 0.25 percent of less. As of Saturday, Nelson and Scott were 0.15 percent apart.

Former Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho, who was in the job during the 2000 recount, said Republicans and Democrats need to stay on the sidelines while the final votes are being tallied.

“These individuals should keep their mouths shut” and “let the ballots be counted,” Sancho told the News Service on Saturday.

Scott and his supporters have repeatedly used the words “fraud” and “shenanigans” to disparage Nelson, Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher — all Democrats.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, because if it’s not true, they (Republicans) still tar the Democrats as cheaters, and they still get an issue they can use in future elections. So in this case, the truth doesn’t matter,” Sancho said.

Echoing a refrain used by critics of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, chants of “Lock her up!” could be heard outside the Lauderhill election headquarters of Snipes on Saturday.

The increasingly nasty vibe sparked a reminder of the 2000 events for Watson.

“What I’m reading and listening and hearing from people, it is total déjà vu here. There were fraud allegations. There were people picketing. There were people chanting,” he said. “This is very, very similar in terms of the things that were alleged. They were alleging fraud, and abuse and incompetence on all sides.”

Watson said people from around the world contacted him in 2000. Some of their advice was questionable, he recalled.

“I had psychics and fortune tellers in Germany faxing me maps in Florida with ‘x’ marks where they had seen missing ballots,” Watson said. “And they would call me and make sure I got it.”

Eighteen years later, social media has made contact between the public and campaigns instantaneous, Watson said.

“But it was very similar. … The presidency’s not at stake. The Senate’s not at stake. What’s at stake is this divided country, and digital and social media are going to implode,” he said.

Republican political operative J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich was a close adviser to former Gov. Jeb Bush and played a critical role in the 2000 recount.

While he, too, sees many similarities in the two elections, Stipanovich called Republicans’ efforts to erode the public’s confidence in Florida elections unprecedented.

“What you’re doing is you’re delegitimizing the electoral process. Both parties are. And that’s ultimately fraught with risk,” Stipanovich said.

Two decades “makes all the difference in the world in American politics,” Stipanovich said.

“Everything is, on both sides, so much coarser, so more angry. It’s different,” he said.

Throughout Saturday, demands from the candidates’ supporters and third-party groups continued to escalate.

“Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon.

The SAVE political committee, a group supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender causes, sent out an email alert seeking volunteers — including lawyers — to staff recounts in each of the 67 counties. Republican and Democratic groups issued similar requests.

Saturday afternoon, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause asked Scott to “immediately relinquish authority and remove yourself from any control of any person or agency responsible for the processing and counting of ballots.”

Accompanied by his attorney Barry Richard during a news conference Saturday afternoon, Gillum said he will “accept whatever the outcome is of the elections, so long as every single vote in this process is counted.”

“I am replacing my word of concession with an uncompromised and apologetic call that we count every single vote” said Gillum, who conceded the governor’s race to DeSantis on Tuesday night and trailed by more than 33,000 votes Saturday.

Ron DeSantis calls election ‘clear and unambiguous’ ahead of recount

Republican Ron DeSantis said he is moving forward with his transition into the Governor’s Mansion, even after Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum withdrew his concession from Tuesday’s election.

“With the election behind us, it’s now time to come together as a state as we prepare to serve all Floridians,” DeSantis said in a video statement (below).

“Since Tuesday night, that is what I have been doing and that is what I will continue to do in the days and weeks ahead as I prepare to take office as the 46th Governor of the State of Florida.”

A completed tabulation of votes statewide shows DeSantis holding a 33,684-vote lead over Gillum. That’s 0.41 percent of more than 8.2 million votes cast.

Florida law requires an automatic machine recount of the election should the margin between candidates full below 0.5 percent.

Gillum on Saturday held a press conference during which he pulled back a concession to DeSantis made Tuesday night.

“Since that time, more information has come in,” Gillum told reporters.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner earlier on Saturday ordered a recount for the race.

DeSantis did not mention Gillum in his statement, and certainly didn’t go so far as Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott’s campaign did today in asking Democratic opponent Bill Nelson to forgo a recount.

But the Governor-elect did call the results of the election “clear and unambiguous, just as they were on Election night.”

“I am honored by the trust that Floridians have placed in me to serve as your next governor,” DeSantis said.

He also did not raise issues with voting irregularities in Democratic Broward and Palm Beach counties, something that has led to legal back-and-forth between Nelson and which prompted a lawsuit by Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Calwell, who trails Democrat Nikki Fried right now, to file a lawsuit against the elections officials.

But DeSantis certainly suggested his campaign would be paying attention to any vote-counting proceedings.

“I want to express my appreciation to the supervisors, the canvassing boards, and the staffs for working hard to ensure that all lawful votes are counted in this election,” DeSantis said.

“It is important that everyone involved in the election process strictly adhere to the rule of law which is the foundation for our nation.”

DeSantis named a transition team earlier this week. They are still working, he stressed.

“Since the election a few days ago, we have begun our transition efforts to build an administration that can secure Florida’s future,” DeSantis said.

Takeback: Andrew Gillum retracts concession as recount begins

Andrew Gillum is walking back his prior acknowledgment that Florida voters elected Republican Ron DeSantis as Governor.

Gillum, the Mayor of Tallahassee, told news media on Saturday that he conceded the election to DeSantis on Tuesday night because he “had operated with the best information that was available.”

“Since that time, more information has come in,” he added.

Gillum said there are outstanding votes across the state. He also said there is “uncertainty” in the total number of votes that have been counted.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner earlier on Saturday ordered a recount for six races in the state, including the gubernatorial election. All fell within the 0.5 percent margin needed to trigger a statewide recount.

Gillum, as of 4 p.m. on Saturday, trails DeSantis by 33,684 votes, or 0.41 percent.

Gillum said he is prepared to accept the outcome of the race, so long as “we count every vote.”

But that could mean multiple recounts.

Barry Richard, a Tallahassee-based elections lawyer retained by Gillum’s campaign, did not rule out the possibility of the race heading to a manual recount after the machine recount is complete.

“Mayor Gillum is not waiving any legal right that he has to ensure that all of the votes are counted — that’s one of the reasons that he hired me,” Richard said.

A manual recount is triggered when the vote differential falls within 0.25 percent of the total vote.

Richard did not say whether Gillum would contest the final vote tally if he still comes up short.

“When the machine recount is finished, if [Gillum] is satisfied that the system has worked properly and there are no uncounted votes … I imagine he’ll be satisfied,” he said.

Ken Detzner formally orders Florida recount for Senate, Governor, Ag. Commissioner

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has formally ordered a machine recount in three statewide races: U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner.

“I hereby order the canvassing boards responsible for canvassing [the three races] to conduct a machine recount of the votes cast in the race,” reads an order from Detzner sent to elections supervisors in all 67 Florida counties. Separate orders were sent for each race subject to a recount.

The Secretary of State’s office also sent procedures to be followed for the machine recount.

Totals as of 12:30 on Saturday shows Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott leading incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson by 12,562, Republican Gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis beating Democrat Andrew Gillum by 33,684 votes, and Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried ahead of Republican Matt Caldwell by 5,326 votes.

All three races fall within the 0.5 percent margin to trigger a statewide recount.

For now, only a machine recount has been orders and that remains the focus of elections officials.

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner says in his office, he will count all three statewide races simultaneously during the machine recount.

Two of the races, for U.S. Senate and Agriculture Commissioner, have margins right now that fall with 0.25 percent of total votes cast. If the gap between candidates remains that tight after the machine recount, the law requires Detzner to order a hand recount as well.

Turner says the case of a manual recount, only over- and under-votes will be counted.

With a recount moving forward in Florida’s U.S. Senate contest, Democrat Bill Nelson projected confidence totals will still swing his way.

“This process is about one thing: making sure every legal ballot is counted and protecting the right of every Floridian to participate in our democracy,” Nelson said in a statement. “Since Tuesday, the gap has shrunk from roughly 60,000 votes to about 12,500 – the margin has reduced by 78 percent and is now roughly .15 percent.

“We have every expectation the recount will be full and fair and will continue taking action to ensure every vote is counted without interference or efforts to undermine the democratic process. We believe when every legal ballot is counted we’ll win this election.”

But Republican leaders say they are resolved to make sure the count is fair and confident Republicans will come out ahead in all three races.

“Democrats would like nothing more than to rip victories away from Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott & Matt Caldwell,” said Christian Ziegler, a member of the Florida GOP Executive Board. “As we’ve seen in Broward County, they will stop at nothing to win, including possibly violating the law.

“My job is to block any Democrat shenanigans and ensure that every vote is fairly counted and that the proper processes are being executed.”

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What recount? Nikki Fried declares victory in Ag. Commissioner race

With a recount looking, Democratic candidate Nikki Fried declared victory Saturday in her race to be Florida’s next Agriculture Commissioner.

Fried also named former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy as chair of her transition team. U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Florida’s 9th congressional District will serve as a co-chair, as will Fred Guttenberg. Guttenberg has become active in the political scene since his daughter, Jaime, was killed in February’s shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School.

At this stage, Fried leads her Republican opponent, Matt Caldwell, by just over 5,000 votes according to the latest numbers.

But with the first count in the race completed, Fried says voters have made their choice.

“The process has worked,” Fried said, speaking in front of supporters in Plantation.

“The will of the voters was heard, and the people’s choice is clear. I’m humbled and honored to be elected Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as the first woman to have ever been elected to this position.”

The election is not over, however. Fried’s margin gives her a 0.06 percentage point lead over Caldwell. Florida law requires any race within a 0.5 percentage point margin to go to a machine recount.

Fried’s tally climbed in recent days as ballots continued to be counted in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Caldwell’s team has lashed out against the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office. They accused Supervisor Brenda Snipes of failing to accurately count the area’s votes.

That was followed by a lawsuit filed Friday against Snipes. His lawyers allege that Broward County accepted absentee ballots after the polls had close.

Though the race remains incredibly tight, the Florida Democratic Party has also congratulated Fried on her “win.”

Murphy also released a statement on his new role chairing Fried’s transition team, should she formally be declared the winner.

“Over the course of this race I’ve gotten to know Nikki Fried and she’s impressed me as a knowledgeable, hard-working, independent leader—she puts common-sense above politics and will do the right things as Commissioner,” Murphy said.

“I’m looking forward to working with her and Commissioner [Adam] Putnam on a seamless transition and helping her put together an office which will accomplish her priorities of protecting our waterways, being a fighter for farmers in Tallahassee and Washington, ensuring complete background checks, and expanding access to medical marijuana.”

Of her transition chairs, Fried said, “They bring a diversity of experience, expertise, and leadership in the important issues facing our state.”

She closed with a note reflecting back on what turned out to be a wild 2018 midterm cycle in the state.

“This election is unusual, and even historic,” Fried said.

“I plan to work my hardest, so I’m ready to tackle the issues as your next Commissioner of Agriculture.”

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