Florida’s midterm elections were consumed by turmoil on Thursday as uncounted votes cast doubt over the results in three big contests: governor, and agriculture commissioner.
The eyes of the state, and nation, were on Broward County — where thousands of ballots were still being counted two days after Election Day.
reacted furiously, offering conspiracy theories about and their lawyers plotting to steal elections. President weighed in Thursday night, writing on Twitter about “another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach.”
Democrats mocked the GOP outrage, wondering why Republicans feared the careful counting of all votes.
Despite Republican complaints about Democratic lawyers, it was Republican whose late Thursday in Broward County Circuit against the county’s elections supervisor Brenda Snipes.
The lawsuit said she is withholding too much information, and demanded she reveal how many ballots were left to count. “The lack of transparency raises substantial concerns about the validity of the election process,” Scott’s lawsuit claimed.
’s spokesman said Scott’s action “appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation.”
Snipes declined to comment about the lawsuit Thursday night. However, she said that virtually all the ballots were counted by early in the evening.
With accusations flying, no one knows for sure who will emerge as the winner of statewide elections — or when.
The latest tally in the governor’s race had Republican and Democrat separated by just 36,235 votes of more than 8.2 million votes cast. DeSantis had 49.61 percent; Gillum had 49.17 percent.
In the U.S. Senate race, Republican Rick Scott and Democratic Bill Nelson were separated by just 15,074 votes of 8.2 million cast. Scott, currently the governor, had 50.09 percent to incumbent Nelson’s 49.91 percent.
And in the race for state agriculture commissioner, Nikki Fried of was running ahead of Republican Matt Caldwell by an infinitesimally small number of votes: 2,896 out of more than 8 million cast statewide. Fried had 50.02 percent to Caldwell’s 49.98 percent.
Thursday’s focus was on Broward County, where streams of elected officials and lawyers swooped in and out of the Supervisor of Elections Voter Equipment Center in Lauderhill. That was where the three-member elections Canvassing Board was overseeing counting, long after almost every other county in the state had all their ballots counted.
Among the questions:
— Why did nearly 25,000 people vote for governor but not for U.S. Senate in Broward? A common theory was that because of the way the , with the Senate race in the left-hand column below the instructions, some voters missed the contest.
— Why was the vote counting going so slowly? When counting resumed Thursday, tens of thousands of ballots remained to be processed, long after other counties had everything counted and results reported to the state. Broward elections chief Snipes blamed the volume of mail-in ballots, many of which were received just before the 7 p.m. deadline on Tuesday.
Thursday evening, Snipes said less than 240 ballots still remain to be considered by the three-member elections Canvassing Board. The board met until about 10 p.m. Thursday and will reconvene at 1 p.m. Friday.
In Palm Beach County, Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said the bulk of counting is done. About 50 mail-in ballots will go to the Palm Beach County elections Canvassing Board on Friday, some write-in votes remained to be counted, and about 60 under votes would go to the Canvassing Board to try to determine voters’ intent.
if the races are closer than 0.5 percent, which means the continued uncertainty is certain. After the initial recount by machine, if there is less than 0.25 percent difference, ballots that couldn’t be accurately read by machine are counted by hand.
On Election Night, Republicans were seen as the winners. In the governor’s race, Gillum conceded, something that is symbolic but not legally binding.
DeSantis, the Republican seen as the victor, said Thursday during a stop in Hialeah Gardens that he was working on his transition to the governor’s office. “We‘ll let the lawyers do what they got to do, but we‘ll be good. I am looking forward to serving.”
But Democrats sought to change the narrative.
Terrie Rizzo, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party declared Fried the winner over Caldwell.
“In spite of the fact that we are a little bit down in the numbers, we are hopeful that every single vote will be counted in this race. That way all of us can walk away feeling extremely confident about what each and every one of us did to go out here and have our say in this election,” Gillum said in a video posted on his Facebook page.
The Democrat’s last four words were the slogan he used throughout his campaign: "Let‘s count every single vote, and let‘s bring it home."
Nelson said on Twitter that “Every vote must be counted — and, counted accurately.” A Nelson attorney said the campaign was ready to file lawsuits.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., issued a string of tweets and her refusal to say when everything would be finished. Snipes said she wasn’t in the business of “guesstimating.”
Attorney Marc Elias, a high-profile national election lawyer representing Nelson, said it’s 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.
Everything that happens at the canvassing boards is under scrutiny, something that will spread throughout the state once, as appears likely, full-scale recounts are ordered. The League of Women Voters of Florida said Thursday it has members monitoring elections canvassing boards “to promote transparency and help keep citizens informed of the progress and process.”
On Thursday evening, tempers flared when Broward’s Canvassing Board began considering provisional ballots cast by voters who were not listed as eligible to vote.
The elections office found 205 of the more than 600 were in fact eligible. Republican and Democratic representatives started arguing about how to handle them.
Democrats and groups that support the party’s candidates scrambled throughout the day to get people who cast provisional ballots on Tuesday to act to make sure their ballots would be counted by the 5 p.m. deadline. Democratic Party offices in Fort Lauderdale, Miramar and Plantation were used as war rooms where volunteers attempted to track down people who voted provisionally.
Provisional ballots are given to voters whose eligibility cannot be determined at the polls, such as someone who might not have proper identification.
Bucher said a crew would research provisional ballots overnight Thursday and they would go to the Canvassing Board on Friday.
One of the quirks in this year’s election was nearly 25,000 people voted for a governor candidate but didn’t vote for a Senate candidate, according to county results Thursday morning.
More than 707,021 people voted for governor in Broward in Tuesday’s election, while more than 682,073 voters cast ballots for Senate, preliminary county election results showed.
More people in Broward voted for the state’s commissioner of agriculture, chief financial officer and attorney general positions than they did for the Senate, according to the preliminary county results.
The sudden focus on recounts brought back memories for many of the infamous 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore that ended after ballot counting court battles.
“Welcome to recount mania,” said Mitch Ceasar, who was chairman of the Broward Democratic Party in 2000.
As vote counting continued Thursday one of the lawyers Republicans sent to the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office was Bill Scherer. The Fort Lauderdale lawyer was involved in the Bush v. Gore case.
A Democratic lawyer at the elections office, Broward state Sen. Gary Farmer, was overhead joking on the phone: “They actually just found some Al Gore votes.”
Staff writers Tonya Alanez, Stephen Hobbs and Gray Rohrer contributed to this report.