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The South Florida Roundup

Experts Warn: Expect To See Magnifying Glasses As Broward County Braces For Another Election Recount

Caitie Switalski
Three cart loads of ballots are brought into the Broward Elections office for the canvassing board to examine on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Florida is once again counting ballots.


The election has lasted three more days in at least three major statewide races: U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner. They’re likely heading for recounts because of close margins.

And caught in the middle is Broward County, whose canvassing board is meeting again Friday to reviewing 238 more provisional ballots. As of Thursday afternoon, the Supervisor of Elections Office had accepted 205 of more than 600 provisional ballots.

State elections officials have until Saturday to turn the first batch of unofficial results. The Secretary of State then certifies the results and could consequently order a recount.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with Charles Zelden, a professor at Nova Southeastern University who studied Florida recounts and wrote the book “Bush v. Gore: Exposing the Hidden Dilemma of American Democracy.”

WLRN: Compare and contrast where we are in this 2018 election vote-count process, compared to the last highwater benchmark of Florida vote-counting, which was fall 2000 with the presidential race. 

CHARLES ZELDEN: The biggest difference is that in 2000 it came as a surprise. And the law wasn't clear about how to handle recounts. There was in fact no law procedure for having a statewide recount. The law has been cleaned up. It's very clear. If they're half of 1 percent gap between the candidates, you go to a machine recount. If it is a quarter of 1 percent gap between the candidates, you go to a hand recount. So it's very clear when the recounts kick in. 

I want to dig into that process because there's even questions around there.  Does the Secretary of State, who is kind of the head of the elections process when it comes to the state, does that office have to order a recount even if the mathematical numbers are in play? Or does it automatically happen with or without the office technically issuing the order? 

As I understand it, the office is required to order a recount if these numbers are matched. What the Legislature wanted to do was to take away any doubt. In terms of when there's a recount, how the recount will be held. So, if you hit the benchmark the recount happens. 

The benchmark of a half a percent or less would require an automated machine recount. A quarter percent or less would require a manual recount. That manual recount, in terms of the three races that are likely to go into a recount, is the Commissioner of Agriculture race. Will that race first go through the automatic recall and then a manual recount? Or will it automatically go straight to the manual recount? 

They will probably run it through the machines anyhow as a way to pull out questionable ballots. One of the ways to simplify hand recounts is you run it through the machines. In any case in which there is an undervote – no one voted for the for the for the office – or there's an overvote – two votes were listed – you pull those out because those are ones you've got to look at very closely. Then you go through the other ones and just simply say, O.K. there's a mark for the Democrat; there's a mark for the Republican. The Scantrons are going to be easier to determine the intent of the voter than the old chad system was. 

There's the infamous picture in Palm Beach County from November 2000 with a worker looking at one of those butterfly ballots with the chads in it with a magnifying glass. Are we going to see something similar this time around? Could we see something similar, without the chads necessarily but trying to decide, 'is that oval filled in correctly and properly and fully'? 

That will exactly happen. They won't be holding it up into the air to get the light to shine through. But they will possibly be using magnifying glasses to see is there a mark that the machine missed. 

Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.