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Vote lead continues to change in Florida U.S. congressional primary recount

 Broward Commissioner Dale Holness, wears an orange Hastings mask, and sits in a chair watching watches a meeting of the Broward County canvassing board
Daniel Rivero
Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness watches a meeting of the Broward County canvassing board on Friday, November 5, 2021.

Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness showed up to the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, opting to personally question rejected ballots instead of relying on his attorneys.

This post has been updated.

After a machine recount, the Democratic primary for Florida’s 20th congressional district appeared to narrow but now has extended just a bit for one of the hopefuls.

Friday afternoon, Candidate Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick lost one single vote from her lead over Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness in the recount in Broward County, while the numbers stayed flat in Palm Beach.

That vote was later counted in her favor, and by early Friday evening Cherfilus-McCormick maintained a five-vote lead. Vote counting will continue next week.

With the spread so thin, Holness opted to get personally involved Friday — very involved.

Holness showed up to the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, and opted to personally question rejected ballots instead of relying on his attorneys.

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When the first unofficial vote counting was finished, Holness dropped just behind political newcomer Cherfilus-McCormick, the latest swing in a packed primary election that saw both candidates repeatedly trading top spots as the counting went on.

And that means every single vote matters. For Holness, that’s especially true in Broward County, his stronghold.

“Lawyers are there to advise and guide you. But the case is yours,” said Holness, about his role in questioning rejected ballots. "The case is mine on behalf of the people that have cast their ballots. And in Broward County you saw the large difference in the votes that I got compared to anyone else. So part of what I have to do is protect their voice."

There were 23 mail-in ballots rejected for having someone other than the registered voter sign the ballot; 18 for having no signature; eight for having a signature different than that on file; five for changing address to somewhere outside of the district; three rejected because the voter is deceased; five voters who left the Democratic Party, all becoming non-party affiliated voters; two voters who moved outside of the county and district; and one person with a felony conviction who had not yet had their civil rights restored.

With the margin so narrow in the race, a machine recount took place Friday morning. A manual hand recount is expected to begin Friday afternoon.

Holness questioned several ballots that were flagged for having a different signature than that on file with the Supervisor of Elections office and the state of Florida.

"Clearly, people sign differently at different times, and you saw that in these signatures," Holness said.

The canvassing board for Broward County reviewed one of the ballots flagged by Holness and determined that it should be counted. That case involved a voter listed at an address who requested and received a vote-by-mail ballot, but who signed and returned a ballot sent to another person who lives at that address. The other person never returned a ballot.

The candidate that received that vote is not known, but after it was accepted Holness closed his eyes and slightly raised a fist in the air.

Later in the day, two more ballots with signatures that did not match were allowed to be counted by the canvassing board, after reviewing past signatures from the voters.

Holness' team pushed for more of the questioned ballots to be counted.

"They're good people trying to do good work the best they can. No one is perfect. No system is perfect," Holness said.

Four overseas ballots have been received by the Supervisor of Elections office after Election Day, but none have been counted yet.

A total of 553 overseas votes were mailed out for the Democratic primary election, said Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott. Of those, 32 were returned by Election Day. Four more additional overseas ballots have come in since Election Day. In the coming days, he expects more to trickle in, but not much. Any that come in by Nov. 12 will be counted.

"If we have 50 total that come back that would be surprising," Scott told WLRN.

The office is going to wait until all of overseas ballots are received before counting them on Nov. 12, the final day for them to be received by the office. All ballots the canvassing board has determined should be counted will also be counted at that time, not in the recount that is currently underway.

In a race as tight as this one, those stray ballots could potentially turn the tide for the whole election.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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