Florida’s election recount chaos, explained

This isn't over.

It's recount time in Florida yet again. (CREDIT: Getty Images)
It's recount time in Florida yet again. (CREDIT: Getty Images)

Florida’s next governor, senator, and commissioner of agriculture will be decided by recount, continuing the Florida tradition of dramatic election results.

Democratic candidate for governor, Andrew Gillum, trails Republican Ron DeSantis by less than 39,000 votes, or 0.47 percent, as of Thursday evening. Florida law dictates that a machine recount is triggered if the margin drops below 0.5 percent.

The Senate race is even closer: incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson trails Republican Gov. Rick Scott by less than 17,000 votes — a margin of 0.22 percent. A manual recount, a longer, more thorough process, is triggered if the margin falls below 0.25 percent.

Nikki Fried, a former medical marijuana lobbyist, appears to have taken a slight lead in the race for agriculture commissioner after a manual recount and has thus far out-performed every other Democrat running statewide.


As is often the case in Florida elections, the issue lies in Broward County, where a significant number of ballots have yet to be tabulated. According to Broward County Elections Supervisor Dr. Brenda Snipes, all early votes are counted with only mail-in and provisional ballots left. Earlier Thursday, she told reporters that she can’t estimate the number of ballots left to count.

“I can’t give you an exact number. I’m not sure. I’m really not sure,” Snipes said.

Politico Florida reporter Marc Caputo reported late Thursday that a teacher had found an entire box of provisional ballots left behind at her elementary school in Broward County.

Aside from the number of ballots left to count, election officials expressed concern regarding the thousands of ballots in Broward County that had a vote for governor, but left their choice for senator blank.

The disparity may have something to do with the county’s ballot design, which placed the Senate race in the bottom left corner of the bracket, but Marc Elias, a recount attorney hired by the Nelson campaign, claims that because there were disparities among congressional districts, the problem likely lies with the machine.


“The scanning equipment may not have caught it,” he said. “The intent is clear, but the machine couldn’t pick it up.”

This is far from the from the first time Broward County has had issues with ballots. In 2000, the county gained national attention for its high-profile recount of the presidential election. For those wanting a clear answer as to why Broward is always a problem, there really isn’t one. Snipes has been criticized in the past for actions like destroying ballots too early after an election or posting results before the polls closed.

Broward County, the bluest county in the state, would play a pivotal role in electing Gillum and reelecting Nelson.

Statewide, an estimated 15,000 ballots have been rejected due to Florida’s signature matching law, which requires the signature on the absentee ballot to match the signature on file with county election officials. As Ari Berman notes in Mother Jones, this type of law disproportionately affects young and minority voters who tend to vote for Democrats.


Gillum, who conceded to DeSantis on Election Night and could deny a recount if he wanted to, released a statement Thursday saying he wants every voted counted.

“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count. Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported. Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount. Mayor  Gillum started his campaign for the people, and we are committed to ensuring every single vote in Florida is counted.”

As for what’s next, the unofficial returns from all Florida counties are due at noon Saturday. After a machine recount, a second round of unofficial returns is due from all Florida counties at 3 p.m. on November 15. The official election counts are due no later than noon on November 18 and on November 20, the state will certify the results.