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MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) – Election departments in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are in a race against the clock to finish their ballot recounts by this Thursday.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the recounts over the weekend in races for governor, senator, and agriculture commissioner after county election departments turned in their unofficial ballot counts. The recounts were triggered because the margins in all three contests are under .5%.
State law requires a recount when candidates are within one-half point when all the votes are counted. If reaches .5 percent, it automatically triggers a statewide machine recount. If it goes within .25, it triggers a manual recount.
According to unofficial results filed by the counties on Saturday, Republican Gov. Rick Scott leads incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by more than 12,500 votes or about .15%. This will be a manual recount.
The spread in the governor’s race is larger, with Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis ahead of Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by nearly 34,000 votes, for a lead of .41%. This will be a machine recount.
In the narrowest contest, Democratic agriculture commissioner candidate Nikki Fried’s advantage stands at 5,326 votes — just .06% — over Republican Matt Caldwell. This will be a manual recount.
The recounts must be completed this Thursday by 3 p.m.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said meeting the deadline will be virtually impossible. The only have eight machines to process more than half a million ballots.
If any election department fails to meet the deadline, the Saturday count stands.
As the counting continues, the biggest daily developments in this story will likely be the flurry of lawsuits that can and will be filed from all the campaigns. There will be a pattern. Republican lawsuits will be designed to preserve the vote totals as they currently exist, the Democrat ones will be designed to expand the pool of available votes. That is not a good vs. evil comparison. It is a one side is winning vs. one side is losing comparison. Among the ones to expect: a lawsuit of some kind to allow Palm Beach County to extend their recount beyond the Thursday deadline
These lawsuits are expensive, important and do offer up the possibility of having a tangible impact on the vote count. That impact may not be nearly as important as what it does for the public relations battle both sides are playing.
Case in point: Scott’s two successful lawsuits against Palm Beach and Broward County. They had no real impact on the vote total, but it does allow the Scott team to respond that both County Elections Supervisors were found to be “violating the Constitution” whenever anyone asks them to point to real evidence of fraud. Those cases had nothing to do with fraud. It was about releasing records that were eventually going to be released, but just a bit early. However, it certainly makes for a powerful talking point.
What will the candidates do?
You will continue to see Scott’s team use strong language to describe Nelson’s role in this. “Fraud” & “Steal” will be a constant refrain. The Nelson team will continue to paint Scott as someone willfully attempting to prevent valid votes from being cast — and even using his powers as governor to do so. Democrats compared him to a socialist dictator Sunday night.
As for the gubernatorial candidates, expect DeSantis to attempt to be as far above the fray as possible. If he does anything, it will all be in a role as governor-elect. He knows his chances of losing are slim, and he has the restraint to not get in the way of things. Gillum has already made two high-profile public appearances with another one scheduled for Monday night in Boynton Beach. He is expected to make several more in the coming days. This is largely to capture the captive national audience.
What is the next big moment on the timeline?
Wednesday’s hearing in Federal Court in Tallahassee where a new judge will hear the case regarding the adjudication of provisional and mail in ballots. The best guess as to how many of these ballots are at stake is around 20,000.
Daniel Smith is a University of Florida Research Foundation professor in political science. His research shows why Democrats are so keen on getting these votes counted. They disproportionately come from minority and younger communities — communities that vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
Mark Elias, the Democrats’ lead attorney, has consistently said, the more those votes get counted, the better it is for his clients. One thing to be aware of: the new judge in this case, Mark Walker, has previously ruled on a case like this, but he is not considered to be a fan of Scott. There is a sense among the campaigns that this case could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
(©2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)