Nearly 20 years ago, the nation’s eyes were transfixed on a contentious Florida election recount to determine the winner of the presidential race. That recount was cut short by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that even today has left many wondering who really won. This week, the nation’s eyes (and the president’s tweets) are focused on another contentious statewide Florida recount, this one involving the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott. Although two other statewide races are also under recount — the gubernatorial race and a contest for agriculture commissioner — the U.S. Senate race has drawn the most acrimony, attention, and legal action, since a win for Scott would help Republicans maintain their grip on the Senate. Florida’s secretary of state ordered machine recounts in all three of these statewide races due to narrow margins. The deadline for completion was supposed to be Thursday afternoon, but a judge has ordered an extension to Nov. 20 for Palm Beach County. Other counties have complained they cannot complete the process by Thursday.
Once the machine process is done, counties could be instructed to conduct a hand recount of some ballots, depending on the margin. Although Florida law requires election results be certified by Nov. 20, this could be delayed if machine and hand recounts are not completed by then.
“To call it a recount is false.”
But even as the state’s 67 counties scramble to finish the machine recount of more than 8 million ballots, it’s not clear the results will give a true picture of the race’s winner. That’s because the method Florida uses to conduct election recounts is not a true recount of voter ballots, but simply a rescan of ballots through the same machines that initially counted them. If problems with the software — either through glitches or hacking — produced faulty results the first time, they will reproduce the same faulty results during a rescan.
“To call it a recount is false,” says Ion Sancho, who for 27 years was supervisor of elections for Leon County, Florida, and who led the manual recount in Miami-Dade County for the 2000 presidential recount. “It’s a failure in the state of Florida that the manual recount is not a recount; it’s a scan of ballots.”