Hundreds of people at Broward County's election warehouse finished reviewing ballots earlier than expected on Friday as part of a statewide manual recount for the U.S. Senate race.
The hand counting of tens of thousands of votes marked a final step in an arduous recount process that began earlier this week for the tight contest between Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Volunteers started reviewing at around 8 a.m. all ballots in which voters cast two votes for the Senate race—an overvote—or none, an undervote. By 10 a.m., they were done, and Broward's canvassing board continued into the evening judging ballots that remained questionable.
Under the mandatory statewide recount, all 67 state counties face a Sunday deadline to review whether any of the disputed ballots could be counted in the final vote tally for either candidate. Recounts will also occur in Broward for the agriculture commissioner race on Saturday and a West Park city commission seat on Sunday.
The quick pace of the Senate recount on Friday was in part a result of a large number of undervotes cast in Broward. Joe D'Alessandro, the county's director for election planning and development, said there were 447 overvotes for the Senate race and 30,449 undervotes—far more than for the governor's race.
Democrats have blamed the high undervote total on the county's ballot design, which appeared to tuck the Senate race in the bottom left corner of the first page. They claim many voters did not see the race on the ballot, which limited Nelson's advantage in the overwhelmingly Democratic county.
But D'Alessandro said the ballots were not to blame, noting that a high undervote total in Broward is normal even for contentious statewide races.
"You think I'm going to disparage my own ballots," he said with a smirk. "A lot of people don't always vote races. If they don't know who the candidate is, they don't vote the race. They may not be interested in it."
The recount process began at around 7 a.m. Friday when hundreds of volunteers and party representatives flocked into a massive room at Broward's elections warehouse to begin reviewing ballots. There were about 100 tables with at least four people sitting at each—two volunteers wearing plastic gloves who were handling the ballots and one representative for each party.
The workers categorized the ballots into either a blue-marked box for a Democratic vote or red-labeled one for a Republican vote.
Canvassing board attorney Rene Harrod briefly walked volunteers through the process before counting began.
"If your voter consistently marks the ballot in any of these manners—by circling the name, by checking the name, by underlining the name—those are valid votes," she said.
Any ballots that volunteers struggled to judge then went to the canvassing board. One such ballot included a filled-in bubble for Nelson. The voter also wrote in the name, "Rick Nelson," with the first name likely referring to Scott. The canvassing board determined the vote was for Nelson.
The final tallies from the manual recount will help conclude a bitter Senate race which Scott leads by more than 12,000 votes. Nelson's campaign has hoped that a mechanical error was responsible for many of the undervotes and that he would receive many of them during the recount. But a significant amount of the ballots reviewed by the canvassing board on Friday did indeed feature a blank Senate race.
The governor's race is not part of the recount because Republican Ron Desantis' lead over Democrat Andrew Gillum is more than 0.25 percentage points—the necessary margin for triggering a manual recount. DeSantis declared victory on Thursday after a separate machine recount upheld initial election results.
The start of the recount in Broward came after the county missed by two minutes a Thursday state deadline for the machine recount. In a stunning reversal, the elections office said it did not meet the deadline hours after it initially said it did.
The result was that the state's Division of Elections rejected the vote results tabulated during the hurried machine recount. The state instead relied on Broward’s initial count turned in on Nov. 10.
Rick Scott's campaign, however, has since asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to accept the late numbers in which he gained 700 votes.