Yes, It Was Possible That Palm Beach County Could Have Been Tallying Ballots Until Christmas

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Posted: Nov 23, 2018 8:45 AM
Yes, It Was Possible That Palm Beach County Could Have Been Tallying Ballots Until Christmas

If you were a volunteer or an election official in Palm Beach County, Florida, I do sort of feel or you…a little (not really though). Palm Beach and Broward Counties were once again the epicenter of incompetence in the 2018 cycle, being slapped with lawsuits by the GOP—rightfully—over their shoddy ballot counting processes that a judge ruled was in violation of public records laws. They weren’t giving regular updates on the number of outstanding ballots. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, now Senator-elect after defeating incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, had to file multiple lawsuits. In Palm Beach, Scott alleged that his campaign representatives were barred from the witnessing the replacement ballot process. The law requires witnesses during this process for a simple reason: it’s ripe for fraud. An election official essentially creates a new ballot when the machines cannot read one and runs it through. So, in theory, a corrupt official could conduct some shady business here. The replacement ballot process is meant to prevent disenfranchisement. Broward and Palm Beach are two of the most liberal counties in the state of Florida. Broward has a long history of mismanagement and incompetence. And both counties failed to make their recount deadlines on time. 

Prior to Thanksgiving, there must have been dread infesting this band of officials and volunteers. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson conceded in their races, but that didn’t mean their work was done in Palm Beach. There was a state House race that was separated by less than 40 votes—and they hadn’t even started the hand recount for the state’s agricultural commissioner’s race. There was a possibility that Palm Beach could have been counting votes until Christmas. Less than half of one percent difference triggers an automatic machine recount. The hand recounts were ordered because races for Senate and agricultural commissioner were still within a quarter of one percent (via Miami Herald):

With election workers in most of Florida’s 67 counties wrapping up their recounts on Sunday, Palm Beach was preparing to continue counting votes past Thanksgiving — and possibly Christmas.

Even by Florida standards, where the mid-terms have dragged on for nearly two weeks after Election Day, Palm Beach has distinguished itself by drawing out the drama even longer. Decade-old ballot-counting machines only capable of recounting one race at a time have malfunctioned, lawsuits have flown, the canvassing board has struggled to keep up with court orders, and an employee reportedly jammed a paper clip into a high-speed scanner, possibly causing a short circuit that cut off the power. At one point during the chaos, Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told reporters she was “in prayer mode” to finish by the state deadline.

At times, said volunteer election observer Karyn Macy, it was hard to tell if the recount had stopped because of a problem with the equipment or because of a court order. “Stop, stop, machines. Stop, stop, stop, we have to wait for a court order, we’re waiting for an appeal,” she said, describing the rapid-fire instructions given to observers and election workers. “It’s like the planets were aligned to make sure this recount was not possible in time.”

[…]

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered machine recounts of votes cast in the races for U.S. Senate, governor, and agriculture commissioner on Nov. 10 because vote totals were separated by less than half a percentage point. Palm Beach also had to recount votes for a state House seat in which the leading candidate was ahead by just 37 votes.

On Thursday, after most counties submitted the results of their machine recounts, Detzner ordered a hand recount of votes cast in the U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner races because they were still within a quarter of a percentage point.

[…]

State statute requires counties to keep counting votes until the recount is complete, according to Bucher, even though the state has to certify election results on Nov. 20. Unless, that is, the losing candidate concedes, in which case Bucher said she could call off the recount.

After the final statewide vote counts came in on Sunday for the agriculture commissioner race, Democrat Nicole “Nikki” Fried had 6,753 more votes than Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell. When asked whether Caldwell intended to concede, however, campaign spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez said no.

“Palm Beach hasn’t even begun the hand recount of the race,” she said.

Alas, there would be no ballot counting until Christmas. Caldwell conceded prior to the Thanksgiving holiday (via Orlando Sentinel)

Republican agriculture commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell conceded the election to Democrat Nikki Fried Monday, ending the last contested statewide race in Florida.

“I have called Nikki Fried and notified her of my decision to not pursue the matter any further and I have offered to assist her in any way I can as she takes the office of Commissioner,” Caldwell said in a statement.

On Twitter, Fried posted, “I just got off the phone with my opponent [Matt Caldwell] he could not have been more gracious. I want to congratulate him on a close race and thank him for his willingness to step into the arena.”

“And to everyone who supported him, I will be your voice in Tallahassee too,” she added.

And the state House race was a squeaker, with Republican Mike Caruso winning by 32 votes. So, a doomsday scenario was avoided for these workers, who once again fell under the microscope this cycle. While the GOP fell short in the agricultural commissioner’s race, a little bittersweet since this office oversees the concealed carry permit process, we did keep the governor’s mansion and Nelson got picked off. That’s something to be thankful for this year in what turned out to a not so hot cycle for House Republicans.