Democrats fought tooth-and-nail on Friday for recounts in at least three closely watched midterm elections where Republican candidates are narrowly ahead in the latest vote counts.
Florida will learn Saturday whether there will be recounts in the bitter and tight U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, and in the governor’s race between former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum.
Meanwhile, volunteers spread out Friday trying to find any ballots that could help Democrat Stacey Abrams close the gap against Republican Brian Kemp in their unsettled, too-close-to-call race for Georgia governor.
Florida’s recount procedures have been revised since the state held the country hostage for a month 18 years ago, when George W. Bush edged Al Gore for the presidency. Among other things, the infamous punch-card ballots are no longer used.
Yet, Scott and President Donald Trump on Friday alleged fraud without evidence, even as the often-laborious process of reviewing ballots in a close race continued ahead of the Saturday noon deadline. Both Scott and Nelson sought to get the courts to intervene.
Scott said “unethical liberals” were trying to steal the election in Democratic strongholds of Broward and Palm Beach counties. He suggested something was awry because vote-counters were taking longer there than in other jurisdictions, and his thin lead has kept narrowing since election night. Late Friday, he led by 0.18 percentage points, low enough to require a recount.
A recount is mandatory if the winning candidate’s margin is less than 0.5 percentage points when the first unofficial count is verified Saturday by Florida’s secretary of state. If the margin is less than 0.25 per cent, the recount must be done by hand.
Nelson lawyer Marc Elias said Scott was using his official position to try to influence the election.
“He himself said that as ballots are being counted, it is tightening. Then he made some veiled threat or suggestion that he was somehow going to involve law enforcement,” Elias said. “This is not a third world dictatorship. We do not let people seize ballots when they think they’re losing.”
In Washington, Trump took Scott’s side, telling reporters that the federal government could get involved and adding: “all of the sudden they are finding votes out of nowhere.”
“What’s going on in Florida is a disgrace,” he said.
Scott’s lead over Nelson is down to 15,000 votes, and it’s likely to narrow further as provisional and late overseas ballots are counted.
As the initial count concludes, one issue will loom over the result: a substantial undervote in Broward County, the state’s most Democratic county, and the possibility that the ballot design, which might have made it harder to find the Senate choice, will ultimately cost the Democrats a Senate seat.
An undervote is when a voter casts a ballot but doesn’t vote in one of the contests on the ballot. At the moment, there are a lot undervotes in the Senate race in Broward.
If Scott ultimately prevails by a margin of 10,000 votes or less, the undervotes in Broward County could be what cost Nelson the race.
Broward County has reported about 25,000 fewer votes cast for Senate than for governor, a difference of about 3.7 percent. That means voters left their Senate choice blank, or the choice was not counted because of a tabulation error like an equipment problem. This is highly unusual, and there’s nothing like this discrepancy elsewhere in the state. Immediately across the county line in Miami-Dade County, about the same number of people voted in the Senate race as in the governor’s race.
In the undecided race for governor, DeSantis was leading by 0.43 percentage points late Friday. That margin, if it holds, would require a recount, but DeSantis has mostly stayed out of the fray, saying he was working on plans for taking office in January.
In Georgia, unofficial returns show Kemp with an advantage, and he’s already resigned as secretary of state to start a transition with the blessing of the outgoing GOP governor, Nathan Deal. Trump weighed in with a tweet that said Kemp “ran a great race in Georgia - he won. It is time to move on!”
Yet Abrams, who hopes to become the nation’s first black female governor, sent out volunteers and campaign staff in search of votes that she hopes could still tilt the margin toward her.
In a frantic effort to make sure every possible vote is counted, dozens of volunteers converged on a warehouse-turned-phone bank near downtown. The goal: reach voters who used a provisional ballot to make sure they take steps to ensure their vote — for Abrams or Kemp — is counted by Friday evening.
Helen Brosnan of the National Domestic Workers Alliance stood on a chair and shouted, “How many calls do you think we can make? Can we make hundreds of calls? Let’s do this!”
Abrams’ lawyers also are exploring options to ensure all votes are counted. Her campaign leaders say they believe she needs to pick up about 25,000 votes to force a runoff.
At least 2,000 people across the nation are involved in that effort, said state Sen. Nikema Williams, the Georgia director for Care In Action, which advocates for more than 2 million domestic workers and care workers nationwide.
“We’re in the cradle of the Civil Rights movement, the home of Congressman John Lewis who literally bled on the bridge at Selma to make sure that everybody had the right to vote,” she said.
Returns show Kemp with 50.3 per cent of almost 4 million votes, a roughly 63,000-vote lead over Abrams. That’s a narrow sum, considering the near-presidential election year turnout, though sufficient for the majority required for outright victory.
The Associated Press has not declared a winner in the race for Georgia governor. The AP will reassess the race on Tuesday, the deadline for counties to certify election results to the state.
With legal wrangles opening and Abrams showing no signs of conceding, the dispute is prolonging a bitter contest with historical significance and national political repercussions.
Abrams’ campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said Kemp was to blame for problems because he was the secretary of state, Georgia’s top election official, and tried to tamp down minority votes.
“These suppressive tactics are reminiscent of the Old South, tactics that have been resurrected by Brian Kemp, who forced the state to allow him to oversee his own election, and had him be the decider on who was the winner,” she said at a news conference.
Kemp contends he did his job properly and has argued that Abrams wants to help non-citizens vote illegally. Kemp, who has echoed Trump’s immigration rhetoric, cited a speech in which Abrams said “undocumented” people were part of her coalition.
Abrams would become the first black woman elected governor of any U.S. state. Kemp seeks to maintain Republican dominance in a growing, diversifying Deep South state positioned to become a presidential battleground.
The key question is how many uncounted ballots actually remain.
Kemp said Thursday that it’s fewer than 21,000 — almost certainly not enough to force a runoff. Abrams’ campaign argues the total could be higher, and the secretary of state’s office has shared scant details as officials in Georgia’s 159 counties keep counting.
Abrams’ campaign has reserved television advertising time and started sending vote-by-mail information to supporters in case she forces a Dec. 4 runoff with Kemp.
With files from The New York Times.