Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

Here’s Why Election Day in Florida and Georgia Has Turned Into Election Week and a Half

For Florida and Georgia, two outsize states in the Deep South, Election Day hasn’t actually ended.

What voters did not know when they cast their ballots on Nov. 6 was that nearly 10 days later, they would not know the outcome of Florida’s high-profile Senate race or Georgia’s contentious contest for governor.

The races for office became races to the courthouses as dueling campaigns battled to answer the most basic question of democracy: Which ballots count?

Florida votes are counted, then recounted

In a state with a reputation for tight races, the blistering Senate race between Gov. Rick Scott and the incumbent, Bill Nelson, a Democrat — appeared headed for a recount by the end of election night. Before long, the recount included three statewide races and three legislative contests.

The results of the machine recount had to be turned in by 3 p.m. on Thursday. Just hours before, the Democrat’s hope of extending the deadline was dashed by a federal judge. All but two counties — Palm Beach and Hillsborough — completed the count and tried to submit their results. Broward County, hammered by President Trump as a den of voter fraud, finished Thursday, but the recount was submitted two minutes late and the state refused to accept it.

[The hottest spot in Florida? The seat of the Broward County elections chief.]

If a county can’t meet the recount deadline, the previous unofficial results stand — those filed on Saturday. But — and there is always a “but” in Florida — under state statute, even if a recount is not finished by the deadline, it must be completed eventually. Elections supervisors had already been scheduled to count overseas mail ballots through 10 days after the election, which is Friday. The formal election results won’t be certified by the secretary of state until Tuesday.

The Florida governor’s race is all but decided

Even with the recount and the possibility of more ballots validated by court rulings, the governor’s race is all but decided, with the former Republican congressman, Ron DeSantis, on track to beat the Democrat, Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee. Mr. Gillum, who always knew that winning the machine recount was a long shot, is considering a lawsuit contesting the results, according to two people close him, after having withdrawn his election-night concession. Mr. Gillum, in consultation with his elections lawyer Barry Richard — who represented Republicans in the 2000 Florida recount — has told his inner circle that he wants to see every vote counted, including absentee and military ballots, which could delay his formal withdrawal.

The Senate race is still up in the air

Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered a manual recount in the race, as well as in the contest for state agriculture commissioner. The deadline for the manual recounts will be noon Sunday. The Nelson campaign intends to fight until all legal options are exhausted, according to several Democratic officials in Florida with knowledge of his plans.

[Follow the latest Florida election results]

Advisers say Mr. Nelson, who trails Mr. Scott by 12,603 votes, still believes he will prevail, and hopes to add several thousand votes after a federal court ruling on Thursday allowed reviews of up to 4,000 ballots whose signatures had not been validated. His biggest hope — which he shares with Mr. Gillum — is that an as-yet-unknown number of votes, previously uncounted, will emerge during the recount, according to people close to the three-term senator. He is also closely watching the outcome of a lawsuit, filed in Palm Beach County, that would require state elections officials to count mail-in ballots not received by the deadline.

Then there’s pesky Palm Beach County

The South Florida county whose hanging chads held a presidential election hostage 18 years ago is at the center of another election. This time, it’s all about a recount, old machines and an unyielding deadline. The supervisor of election, Susan Bucher, said her aging and prone-to-overheating equipment had failed to count a “substantial” number of ballots, so they were unable to complete the recount. About 585,000 votes were cast in Palm Beach, a Democratic stronghold. Hillsborough County did not submit recount totals in time for the deadline because the count had resulted in 846 fewer votes than originally counted, possibly because of two power failures.

At least dozen lawsuits are still pending

Mr. Nelson sued hurricane-ravaged Bay County — where Mr. Scott won — for the second time in 24 hours on Thursday, just one in the dizzying count of lawsuits filed. Collectively, the lawsuits challenge everything from Thursday’s recount deadline, to ballots rejected for mismatching signatures, to votes received by email. The judge handling the federal cases said he expected to hold hearings every day, including over the weekend. The question now is, what happens to the lawsuits? “I think fluid is the best word. A few will become moot, but the meatier ones that deal with process and standards and voter rights will linger after the election,” said the University of Miami law professor, Frances Hill. “And I expect even more lawsuits from both sides and public interest groups that will seek to enjoin the certification of the election based on access to vote, processes and procedures, some of the same things considered in the 2000 election.”

Some ballots rejected for mismatched signatures could be allowed

Judge Mark Walker of the Federal District Court in Tallahassee ruled that voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected because of mismatches would have until 5 p.m. Saturday to resolve the problem and have their votes counted. The court ruled that the portion of voters — it was not clear how many — who were not notified in enough time to fix their signature problem would be given the additional time.

In Georgia’s close race, Democrats hope for a runoff

The pre-Election Day polls said Georgia’s race for governor was too close to call. Almost four million votes later, it is clear that the polls were correct.

The Republican nominee, Brian Kemp, leads his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, by about 55,000 votes. Democrats do not expect to pick up all of those votes; instead, they are hoping to gain about 17,800 votes to force a Dec. 4 runoff, or the roughly 15,400 they need to set off a recount.

The Abrams campaign, citing the extensive litigation and Georgia’s patchwork of elections procedures, has been adamant that it believes there are enough pending ballots to lead to a runoff. Mr. Kemp’s campaign has asserted that he has an “insurmountable lead.”

Federal judges loom large

The courts have been considering Georgia’s voting system since well before the first general election ballots were cast. But in the aftermath of Election Day, federal judges have been among the most important figures in determining which ballots are counted and how quickly elections officials can carry out some of their duties.

The most consequential ruling, at least in terms of setting a timeline for the race, came late on Monday, when a judge in Atlanta ruled that the secretary of state could not certify the election results until at least Friday at 5 p.m. (The state had been expected to finalize the outcome on Wednesday.)

Other judges have issued rulings on matters like whether to count out-of-county provisional ballots (no), or whether absentee ballots with minor errors involving dates should be tabulated (yes).

Candidates staying out of sight

Mr. Kemp and his aides have projected him as the inevitable 83rd governor of Georgia. Standing next to the retiring Republican governor last week, Mr. Kemp announced that he had hired a chief of staff and a transition team leader. He also said he had resigned as secretary of state, the post in which he oversaw the election and, according to his critics, actively suppressed the vote.

“While his opponent is trying to find new votes and undermine the election, Kemp is focused on leading Georgia forward,” a spokesman, Ryan Mahoney, said.

Ms. Abrams has largely been in seclusion. She has not appeared before reporters since the early-morning hours of Nov. 7, but on Sunday, she spoke out in a brief video posted to her campaign’s Facebook account.

“What matters is that we know where every vote is, and that no one’s vote gets discarded because it’s time up, because that’s not how this works,” Ms. Abrams said. “I want Georgia’s democracy to work for all of us, and I want that to mean something. And that means we’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep investigating and we’re going to keep reporting the truth.”

And with Mr. Kemp’s allies assailing her for refusing to concede, Ms. Abrams acknowledged the personal struggle to maintain a campaign.

“This is hard,” she said. “It’s hard not to just reach for closure and say, ‘Oh, well.’ It’s hard not to just give up.”

Reporting was contributed by Patricia Mazzei, Frances Robles and Glenn Thrush.

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