Florida’s hotly contested race for appears to be headed for a hand recount, and Broward County could play a key role in the drama.
Incumbent Sen. , a three-term Democrat, now trails his Republican challenger Gov. by 17,344 votes statewide, a difference that is within the 0.25 percentage-point difference needed to trigger a hand recount.
Marc Elias, an attorney representing the Nelson campaign, said he won’t hesitate to file lawsuits to ensure every vote is counted properly, and he thinks it’s possible Nelson could overtake Scott going into the recount as more ballots are counted.
“We believe that at the end of the process Sen. Nelson is going to be declared the winner and is going to return to the United States Senate,” he said.
Broward County — a Democratic stronghold — could play a starring role in the recount drama with lingering questions about tens of thousands of ballots with votes for governor but no vote for Senate.
The fight is already on with mounting a fundraising drive to put dollars into Nelson’s “recount fund.” A Scott campaign spokesman is accusing the three-term Democrat of trying to steal the election. Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio blasted Broward elections chief Brenda Snipes on Twitter, saying she has a “history of incompetence.”
Elias said it’s a “virtual certainty” a hand count will be required to determine the winner. If the gap narrows within a quarter of a percentage point, canvassing board members would scrutinize under-votes and over-votes and try to discern voter intent.
In the 2000 presidential recount Florida, questions about voter intent provoked disputes over dimpled chads, punch-cards that had been indented but not penetrated.
More than 24,000 people in Broward County voted for a governor candidate but didn’t vote for a Senate candidate, according to county results updated Thursday morning.
Elias said it’s highly unusual that more people would vote in races for attorney general and chief financial officer than for the U.S. Senate race. He doesn’t think ballot design was the issue, and a recount could reveal problems in Broward that could affect the results.
“I am pretty confident what you are going to see are markings that were not picked up by the machines or a calibration issue that was not registering that part of the ballot," he said.
Snipes, who heads the Broward elections office, dismissed that notion, saying there is not a calibration problem with the machines. She said her office hasn’t started examining the discrepancy.
“We have not had an opportunity to take a look at that,” she said.
Scott in Naples. But the race tightened as more votes came in. Nelson never officially conceded.
Chris Hartline, a Scott campaign spokesman, accused Nelson of trying to “steal this election.”
“Let’s be clear about the Nelson game-plan here,” he tweeted Thursday. “They are preparing to try to steal this election in the courts because they couldn’t win it at the ballot box. They won’t be successful.”
A machine recount is triggered if the race finishes within a half-percentage point difference. If the gap falls to less than a quarter of a percentage point, a hand recount is required.
Thousands of provisional ballots cast by voters without identification — or who showed up at the wrong polling location — still need to be counted. Elias expects those ballots to favor Democrats.
People who cast provisional ballots have until 5 p.m. Thursday to verify their identification or documentation with county election supervisors. Under Florida law, provisional ballots cast by voters without identification can still be counted if the signature matches the one on file with the elections office.
But Elias said showing identification increases the chances that the ballots will be counted.
“They are not handwriting experts,” he said. "We have an epidemic in this country of people having their ballots thrown out because election officials don‘t think the signatures match.”
County canvassing boards must report their first unofficial results to the state by noon Saturday.
Elias has been involved in some high-stakes recounts. He served as lead counsel in former U.S. Sen. ’s 2008 recount fight. Franken barely edged out Norm Coleman, who had initially declared himself the winner.
Ballots from overseas military personnel and their spouses could be another factor in the race. The deadline for those ballots to be received is Nov. 16. Republicans have touted their support from members of the military.
Staff writer Anthony Man contributed to this report.