Tabulations We Can Trust

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY NOV 10, 2018

Nothing brings political paranoia out like a recount, and Florida’s about to hold three statewide. Already, explosive rhetoric surrounds the process, but for all the nasty side comments and veiled accusations, the goal for now remains the same: a fair count of ballots.

It’s important to note, despite #FloridaRecount trending on Twitter the last few days, that recounts yet to begin. Elections offices have until noon today to submit tallies from Tuesday’s election.

In Sarasota and Manatee counties, the first tabulation appears done, outside overseas absentee ballots, which get a separate 10-day window to arrive.

Notably, all counties report extra votes trickling into totals that weren’t there Tuesday when most reporters filed stories on who won. As someone who pays close attention to vote totals regardless if elections are close, I can tell you that’s normal. It’s only razor-thin margins where such movement matters.

With the U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commission races, contests on Tuesday were 1-percent races, so shifts mean more. Florida’s largest counties took the longest to tabulate, and happen to be Democratic bastions, so Republicans saw margins decline. In the Agriculture race, we’ve gone from Republican Matt Caldwell holding near a 0.5 percent lead Tuesday night to Democrat Nikki Fried boasting a 0.04-percent advantage.

But with Broward and Palm Beach counties still counting, the situation grew more anxious. Republican Rick Scott, who saw a lead over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race drop to less than a 0.25 percent margin, accused “unethical liberals” of trying to steal the election, comments Nelson said were “borne of desperation.” Scott also filed a lawsuit against election supervisors in the county. Likewise, Nelson’s camp says Scott made a “veiled threat” about stopping the vote, and filed a federal lawsuit to ensure every vote gets counted.

But it’s important to note as Nelson and Scott deliver caustic rhetoric, they both essentially seek the same thing in Broward and Palm Beach even if they hope for different election outcomes. Scott’s lawsuit demands officials finally provide a total number of pending votes and make ballots available for inspection. Nelson wants a speedy but thorough tabulation of every vote.

The first major news story I covered out of college was the Florida Recount in 2000. I participated in media inspections of ballots afterwards. Everybody should want the actions sought in Scott’s and Nelson’s lawsuits, for the sake of transparency, yes, but mostly so voters believe in this election’s integrity.

U.S. Rep.-elect Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, Friday called on the Justice Department to provide oversight on recounts. He called out elections officials for “gross incompetence” and failure to comply with a law requiring early and absentee ballots be tabulated within 30 minutes of polls closing. There’s tough talk, but I doubt many Democrats would disagree with his basic assessment.

Manatee Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett, a Republican, shakes his head at Broward Supervisor Brenda Snipes. “She has never run a good election,” he says. Broward should have planned for high turnout and properly staffed. But, he says, it’s likely incompetence and not corruption at play.

Importantly, no officials, including anxious candidates, have yet called for legally cast votes to be left uncounted. We’ll see what happens at noon today.

There’s a long road ahead for Florida, one the Sunshine State knows too well. These three races will surely go to a machine recount triggered by a 0.5-percent margin. Two appear poised to go to a manual recount, which happens with 0.25 percent gap. We’ll see ballot challenges and both sides making claims of theft.

But as citizens, our goal should be the same—complete and transparent tabulations we can trust.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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