Florida secretary of state orders recounts in US Senate, governor races

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP/WSVN) — The Florida secretary of state ordered recounts in the U.S. Senate and governor races on Saturday, an unprecedented review of two major contests in the state that took five weeks to decide the 2000 presidential election.

Secretary Ken Detzner issued the order after the unofficial results in both races fell within the margin that by law triggers a recount. His office was unaware of any other time either a race for governor or U.S. Senate in Florida required a recount, let alone both in the same election.

Dr. Brenda Snipes, Broward County’s elections supervisor, confirmed the recount at her Lauderhill office.

“The statewide machine recount has been ordered by the secretary of state,” she said.

The recount sets up what could be several days of political tension in this deeply divided state. President Donald Trump tweeted without evidence that the elections were being stolen.

Protesters gathered outside the Broward Elections headquarters, which is quickly becoming a battleground in the recount. The protesters waved signs, used bullhorns and even harangued a food delivery person at one point, asking if there were ballots inside the food bags.

The unofficial results show that Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 33,684 votes, or 0.41 percentage points, as of 6 p.m. Saturday.

In the Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is 12,562 votes, or 0.15 percentage points, as of 6 p.m.

“[The results] have met the statutory threshold to trigger a machine recount,” said Snipes.

Detzner ordered machine recounts in both races. Once completed, if the differences in the races are at 0.25 percentage points or below, a hand recount will be ordered, said Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell.

In Broward, a major issue was cleared up. A photo of a container marked “Provisional Ballot Box” had circulated on social media after a schoolteacher said she found it lying around Sunshine Elementary School in Miramar.

The discovery led some to speculate vital votes had been left inside the container, but Snipes’ attorney, Eugene Pettis, said there were no ballots inside.

“They think ballots are being brought back here. There are no ballots on any of these boxes; what’s in there are supplies,” said Pettis.

All eyes are on Broward, as it could be the deciding county in the official outcome of both battles for governor and Senate.

Following the recount announcement, Gillum withdrew his concession in the governor’s race.

“Let me say clearly, I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every single vote,” he said, adding that he would accept whatever outcome emerges.

In a video released Saturday afternoon, DeSantis thanked the state’s supervisors of elections, canvassing boards, and the staffs for “working hard to ensure that all lawful votes are counted. He said he is preparing to become the state’s next governor.

“It is important that everyone involved in the election process strictly adhere to the rule of law which is the foundation for our nation,” he said, adding that the election results were “clear and unambiguous.”

In a statement, Scott implored the state’s sheriffs to “watch for any violations and take appropriate action” during the recount.

Scott and his supporters, including Trump, have alleged that voter fraud is underway in Democratic-leaning Broward County, where the Republican lead has narrowed since Election Day. There’s no evidence of voter fraud and the state’s election division, which Scott runs, said Saturday that its observers in Broward had seen “no evidence of criminal activity.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Friday it has not launched any investigation into election fraud.

Back in Lauderhill, Republican protesters, including U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, accused Snipes of mysteriously finding thousands of illegitimate ballots, something elections officials vehemently denied.

“There are no ballots, is the bottom line, in any of these boxes,” said Pettis. “All the provisionals have been transported as of Tuesday. They’ve been a part of the counting process. Period.”

President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter, echoing Republican protesters’ contention.

Florida’s 67 counties will decide when to begin their recounts, but they must be completed by Thursday. Revell said Saturday that recounts can’t begin until the county canvassing boards post a public meeting notice, hold that meeting and then do a public test of equipment.

Miami-Dade County elections officials disclosed they had begun a machine recount Saturday evening. The process involved loading paper ballots into scanning machines and could take days, considering there were some 800,000 ballots cast.

Broward officials are expected to begin their recount at 8 a.m. on Sunday.

Elections officials in two large counties in the Tampa Bay area — Pinellas and Hillsborough — said they would begin recounts Sunday morning.

Machine recounts must be finished by 3 p.m. Thursday.

The Associated Press had called the governor’s race for DeSantis. Following the recount announcement, the AP retracted its call. It is AP policy not to call a race that is facing a recount. No new call will be made until the recount is complete and the results of the election are certified by Florida officials.

The scene was reminiscent of the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W. Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, and thus giving Bush the presidency.

Florida was mocked for the way it handled the infamous 2000 recount, especially since there was no uniform process then on how to proceed. That has changed, with the Legislature passing a clear procedure on how a recount should be conducted.

Florida is also conducting a recount in a third statewide race. Democrat Nikki Fried had a 0.07 percentage point lead lead over Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell in the race for agriculture commissioner, one of Florida’s three Cabinet seats.

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