Florida Recount Deadline Nears, But Judge Could Change That

(Bloomberg) -- Florida election workers were sprinting to complete a recount of Senate and gubernatorial races by a 3 p.m. deadline, even as a federal court ruling introduced new ballots into the mix and another case had the potential to buy officials and voters more time.

The state will proceed to a manual recount if the machine recount finds any of the races are separated by 0.25 percentage point or less.

But a lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, with a hearing set to resume around 1 p.m., sought to extend the machine recount deadline, and the judge could issue a decision imminently. In a separate ruling early Thursday, Walker ordered Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to put an estimated 5,000 rejected ballots back into play.

Republican Rick Scott led incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson by 12,600 votes in the latest tally, while Republican Ron DeSantis was ahead of Democrat Andrew Gillum by 33,700 vote in the governor’s race.

Florida is one of two states where apparent Republican victories on election night have spawned legal battles over counting votes. The other is Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is trying to get enough votes in the governor’s race to force a runoff with Republican Brian Kemp. Federal courts have ordered the state to delay certifying the vote there until Nov. 16 and required counties to count absentee ballots rejected because of missing or incorrect birthdates.

The Cure

The earlier Florida ruling, involving a lawsuit filed by the Nelson campaign, gave voters whose mail-in or provisional ballots were rejected until Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. to address concerns about perceived signature mismatches. Among other evidence, the Nelson campaign had filed a sworn affidavit from a veteran who said her mail-in ballot was wrongfully rejected. In another example, former Florida Representative Patrick Murphy, a Democrat, said his ballot was rejected over a perceived mismatch.

But it wasn’t immediately clear how that new deadline for voters to “cure" those defective ballots would be feasible without also extending the machine-recount deadline. Nelson asked the court to order the state to publish a list of all ballots rejected over signatures.

Separately, a hearing was scheduled Thursday on a lawsuit filed by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters that asked Scott to recuse himself from the process. On Wednesday, he said he would recuse himself from certifying election results on the canvassing commission.

Scott lawyer Daniel Nordby filed a challenge to the request on Thursday, arguing among other things that Scott’s claims of fraud by Democrats are protected by the First Amendment.  The groups’ request for an order barring Scott from making what they call “unfounded claims of fraud" would “raise serious First Amendment issues as it relates to a candidate and elected official’s ability to speak on matters of public concern," Nordby said in the filing.

Palm Beach Woes

Palm Beach County, the state’s third largest, was among a small group of counties that still hadn’t submitted its results as of Thursday morning. Its supervisor of elections, Susan Bucher, has been skeptical that the county can complete the task in time.

Unlike technology in other counties, Palm Beach’s decade-old ballot-counting machines can’t count multiple races simultaneously, and the county was double-checking tallies for Senate, governor, agriculture commissioner and a state lower house seat. The situation was worsened on Tuesday when the machines overheated.

Some workers -- including Bucher herself -- were carrying out the sensitive task of recounting the votes on little or no sleep. Despite the intense pressure to complete the task, the Miami Herald published a photo of an empty vote-counting warehouse on Thursday morning, saying no votes had been counted as of 9 a.m.

Including Palm Beach, a Miami Herald tabulation showed at least five of Florida’s 67 counties still had outstanding votes to count.

During a telephone hearing this morning, the state blamed Palm Beach County’s problems on its failure to invest in better technology and said it shouldn’t get special consideration over other counties.

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