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Fla.’s Military & Overseas Votes Are Still Rolling In; They’re Unlikely To Change Results

Florida’s military and overseas citizens vote-by-mail ballots are being accepted at Supervisors of Elections Offices across the state through Friday, but it’s unlikely they’ll change the outcome of any contested races currently under recount.

In the state of Florida, Supervisors of Elections are required to send vote-by-mail ballots to U.S. uniformed service members on active duty, Merchant Marine members, their spouses and dependents and U.S. citizens living abroad who request them no later than 45 days before each election. As long as those VBM ballots were postmarked by Election Day, Florida law requires that they be accepted up until ten days after the election, or November 16.

That means those votes are still being counted.

“You had Rick Scott saying that the Democratic leaning counties in South Florida came up with 93,000 votes after election night,” said Adrienne Lerner, Director of Pre-Law and instructor in Political Science and Public Administration at the University of North Florida. “Well they didn’t come up with those votes. Those were early votes that hadn’t been counted. Those were mail in ballots that hadn’t been counted.”

“We see Broward County was fairly late counting some of those types of votes. But those votes were there.” she went on to say. “They were not ‘out of nowhere’ votes. Those were cast but untallied votes.”

According to Lerner, Republicans typically view military ballots, especially overseas military ballots, as breaking for them. “If we wanted to look at a comparable midterm election, say we look at 2014, those did tend to break slightly Republican,” she said. “But the numbers of the returned and counted are fairly close.”

However, data made available to the public by the state’s Division of Elections groups all vote-by-mail ballots together. “So we don’t have a breakdown in the state of what was military, overseas military, overseas citizens or regular vote-by-mail,” Lerner said. “And so when we look at vote-by-mail ballots we’re looking broadly at all of the vote-by-mail, or what gets called commonly absentee ballots.”

That means it’s difficult to figure out how many overseas service members and citizens voted, and who they voted for.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Nikki Fried was leading Matt Caldwell by 5,326 votes in the Agriculture Commissioner race, Governor Rick Scott was leading incumbent Bill Nelson by 12,562 votes in the race for U.S. Senate and former congressman Ron DeSantis was leading Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 33,684 votes. That’s according to Florida’s Division of Elections.

All three of those statewide races are currently under a state mandated machine recount. Elections Supervisors have to submit the results of that recount to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner by 3 p.m. Thursday - the day before the overseas ballots are due. “So you could see a recount number and then a small number of the overseas ballots added to that recount number,” Lerner said.

But, according to Lerner, it’s “possible, but not very likely” that overseas military and citizens’ ballots will make a difference in any of those contests.

WJCT News asked the Florida Department of State for specifics on military and overseas citizens ballots in this and past elections, but hasn’t received a response yet.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Brendan Rivers comes to WJCT News with years of experience reporting and hosting news for several stations in the Daytona Beach area.