With a machine recount complete in most counties, the U.S. Senate race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson will now move into the next stage – a statewide hand recount that must be completed by this Sunday. Scott now leads by 12,603 votes, or 0.15%.
Those totals are a disappointment to the Nelson campaign, as Scott actually gained 41 votes from last Saturday’s first unofficial tally of statewide results in the election.
The new numbers do not include returns from several counties, most prominently in Palm Beach County, where Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said earlier today that issues with voting equipment there would preclude her from making Thursday’s 3 p.m. machine recount deadline.
Marc Elias, the lead recount attorney for Nelson, told reporters on a conference call this afternoon that Hillsborough, DeSoto, Broward, Clay, Highlands, Lee, Hardee and Palm Beach counties had not produced complete machine recount numbers.
A federal judge in Tallahassee denied a legal challenge by the Nelson campaign earlier to extend the deadlines for the machine and manual recounts. Judge Mark Walker did say that Bucher can continue the machine recount and include it in her final totals on Sunday. However, the likelihood of Palm Beach making that Sunday deadline for its hand recount looks increasingly dim.
After that loss in federal court, recount attorneys for Senator Nelson went back to Leon County Court in Tallahassee on Thursday and filed a lawsuit against Palm Beach County and the Florida Secretary of State’s office, calling on them to extend the hand recount deadline set for this Sunday at 12 noon. The 11th Court of Appeals in Atlanta this afternoon rejected an appeal by the Scott campaign.
Nelson is also suing Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen to stop any ballots received from email or fax from being counted. Andersen told media outlets this week that he accepted 11 ballots via email and 147 ballots from faxes, a violation of state that law that does not allow for domestic ballots to be emailed.
The Nelson camp did get one legal victory, when Judge Walker ruled overnight that voters who had their vote-by-mail ballots rejected because their signature didn’t match the one on file could get that fixed any time before 5 p.m. Saturday.
However, there were concerns by the Nelson campaign about how those approximately 4,000-5,000 voters affected would be notified that their ballot was rejected due to a bad signature.
The Rick Scott campaign issued a statement Thursday afternoon after the machine recount deadline passed, where he acted as if there’s no need for hand recount.
“Our state needs to move forward,” he said. “We need to put this election behind us, and it is time for Bill Nelson to respect the will of the voters and graciously bring this process to an end rather than proceed with yet another count of the votes – which will yield the same result, and bring embarrassment to the state that we both love and have served.”
Nelson’s only apparent path to victory lies in the hand recount in Broward County, where there were a reported 25,000 so-called “undervotes.”That means voters left their Senate choice blank, or their selection was not counted because of a tabulation error.