Because there is truly nothing new under the sun, there is now a very good chance that Florida will once again subject the rest of the country to not one, but two, electoral recounts in order to decide perhaps the most closely watched contests of this past week’s midterm elections: the governor’s race between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, and the Senate race been Republican Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat and push-up aficionado Bill Nelson.
If the prospect of not one but two statewide recounts in Florida—fucking Florida!—doesn’t make you want to jump in front of a bus, congratulations, you’re a stronger person than I am.
Suffice it to say, recounts in Florida have been known to get pretty damn wacky. So just what is happening in the Sunshine State, and what can we expect moving forward?
Currently, DeSantis leads Gillum to become Florida’s next governor by a razor-thin margin: 4,069,451 to 4,030,936.
Scott’s margin over Nelson is even tighter: 4,091,417 to 4,074,073.
While Gillum offered a concession speech to DeSantis on Tuesday evening, Nelson has refused to do so, arguing his race against Scott was too close to call. And as of Thursday, he seemed absolutely correct. Both the Senate and governor’s races fall below the 0.5 percent margin required by Florida law to trigger automatic recounts. The initial results will be officially declared on Saturday, and if the margins remain as they are now, recounts will happen.
According to Florida law, losing candidates can waive their right to a recount, However, Sen. Nelson has already officially said he wants one, saying in a brief statement on Wednesday that “We are proceeding to a recount,” and vowing to place observers in each of Florida’s election districts to ensure the recount proceeds according to law.
Gillum, meanwhile, has started walking back his earlier concession speech, tweeting on Wednesday that he looks forward to “seeing every vote counted.” And while he has not issued an official call for a recount just yet, a campaign spokesperson seemed to strongly indicate that Gillum is not out of the race.
“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count” Johanna Cervone told CBS. “Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported.”
As things stand now, we’re actually looking at two different types of recounts: One machine, and the other manual. A machine recount occurs if the margin between the candidates is below 0.5 percent. A manual recount occurs if the margin is below 0.25 percent. At the moment, this would mean that the governor’s race is headed to a machine recount, while the Senate race is headed to a manual recount.
In the case of a machine recount, ballots are rescanned through voting machines, with damaged ballots being re-created to ensure they’re able to be read properly as they’re scanned. Then the new total is compared to the original total, and if the numbers match up by more than 0.25%, it’s over. This process must be completed by Nov. 15, with an official winner certified by Nov. 20.
If, however, there’s still a 0.25 margin between the two candidates, then a manual recount takes place. And the Senate race already falls under that margin, so it would move automatically to a manual recount right away if the margin stays where it is.
Manual recounts are much more labor intensive, and involve actually hand-counting ballots and making sure that they were filled out properly. The full timeline for a statewide manual recount is unknown—during the 2000 election between Al Gore and George Bush, a manual recount in just several Florida counties took weeks, and was filled with legal wrangling, and deadline extensions.
According to Mark Ellis, am attorney representing Sen. Nelson, there’s something fishy about the voting totals in the traditionally Democratic Broward County. While over 695,000 people actually cast ballots there, there’s a nearly 30,000 vote discrepancy between total ballots cast and those which included a vote for the Senate race.
In Gillum’s case, the narrowing margin will likely come down to provisional ballots, which are filled out if the voter encounters some sort of discrepancy at their polling place. On Twitter, he urged Floridians to contact their local election supervisors to ensure that if they’d cast provisional ballots those ballots would be counted moving forward.
It’s impossible to say. While there have been cases of tight elections being flipped by recount votes—Al Franken initially lost to incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman by just over 200 votes, before a recount guaranteed his victory by putting him in the lead with a nearly identical number—both Gillum and Nelson are dealing with margins in the tens of thousands. While it’s conceivable that one, or both, may end up ultimately finding enough votes to overcome their respective deficits, we simply won’t know until Florida plunges us into the hellish word of recount elections once again.