FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Florida Gov. Rick Scott has won the close and tense Florida race for US Senate over the incumbent, Sen. Bill Nelson, after a hand recount ended on Sunday.
The state is slated to certify the results on Tuesday, putting to bed a messy post-election dispute involving a dozen lawsuits, claims of fraud, allegations of disenfranchisement, and rowdy protests.
The official results Sunday put Scott, a Republican, up 50.05% to 49.93% over Nelson, a Democrat. That represents a difference of about 10,000 votes in a race where well over 8 million people voted.
"Public office is a public trust," Nelson said in a taped concession statement aired on television Sunday afternoon, "but I was not victorious in this race."
Scott's campaign announced just a little before that Nelson had called to concede the race.
"I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service," Scott said in a statement.
Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who has been targeted for criticism over how she's handled the election, gathered with her staff shortly before Sunday's deadline in the elections supervisor's voting equipment warehouse, where the machine and manual recounts took place over the past week. Snipes and her staff turned in the machine recount two minutes late last week, and the state chose not to accept the results, sparking outrage among voters. Snipes also said she misplaced about 2,000 ballots at the time, though she now insists they are still in the building with the rest of the ballots.
When asked about the missing ballots, Snipes said, "I’ve never thought the ballots were missing. That’s a word we like to tie to ballots. The ballots are intermingled with the others," she told the press. "You guys were here. You saw the pressure that was put on."
On Sunday, however, Snipes turned the hand counts results in 51 minutes early, putting to bed any concerns that the disaster might repeat itself.
“One lesson I learned: It’s a big operation, and there are some things that need to be tweaked on all sides in the processes that make up the election,” Snipes said in a press conference in the warehouse.
Florida began a hand recount in the Senate race on Thursday after a mechanical recount showed the race was so close that a manual recount would be necessary under state law. The mechanical recount showed Scott up over Nelson by fewer than 12,603 votes, or 0.15% — a 0.25% margin is all that's necessary to trigger an automatic hand recount.
Nelson's lawyers, who have launched a wave of lawsuits seeking to get more ballots counted over the last week, were bullish on their prospects under a hand recount. Lead lawyer Marc Elias told reporters Thursday the results "will not only narrow the margin but may reverse it entirely."
Part of the issue is that the Election Day results showed an unusually large number of undervotes in the Senate race, where voters skipped over that race on their ballots while still voting in other races. Nelson's lawyers and state Democrats hoped the reason for the undervotes was a machine error, in which the portion of the ballot that contained the Senate election was not properly read.
But that appeared not to be the case nearly as soon as the hand recount got underway Friday, when vote counters in Broward County saw that ballots simply left the Senate election blank. One possible reason for that is that in Broward, the Senate race was listed on the ballot directly underneath the ballot instructions, making it easy to overlook.
Scott got another legal break Friday night, when a judge ruled that ballots that arrived late in the mail would not count for the race. Democrats had hoped that extra votes from late ballots could help close the margin.
The fight over the Senate seat coincided with a tight governor's race, which saw Republican Ron DeSantis win over Democrat Andrew Gillum after a machine recount. Gillum initially conceded on election night before saying all votes must be counted. He reconceded Saturday night.
Even though the recount has come to an end and all the races will soon be officially called, Palm Beach County may still be counting election results for months. Florida state law requires counties to keep recounting until the vote is done, even if the state has officially certified the election. Palm Beach County's decade-old ballot counting machines — which were needed for both the machine and manual recounts — have repeatedly broken down throughout the recount process. Not wanting to keep pulling all-nighters, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told the press that finishing the process will likely stretch through Thanksgiving and possibly past Christmas.
Significant delays with ballot-counting machines caused workers and volunteers in the county to pull nearly an all-nighter Saturday ahead of the Sunday recount deadline. They then started again at 10 a.m. Sunday to get all the ballots in just under the wire.
After the votes were submitted in Broward on Sunday, all those remaining in the warehouse burst into applause, and many of the attorneys and county employees sped out of the building they had spent hundreds of hours in over the past week. Soon after the press conference, the election director for the county Joseph D’Alessandro could be heard singing loudly in the hallway as he walked toward the door. "It's all over folks, I'm going home!" he yelled, to no one in particular.
With Scott's arrival, both of Florida's senators will be Republicans. His vote will give Republicans a 52-vote margin, with a Mississippi race going to a runoff.