On Thursday evening, Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) appeared on the steps of the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee to address the ongoing ballot-counting in his race for the Senate. He began by articulating how his lead over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) had narrowed over the course of that count. He ended by accusing state elections officials of possible fraud and calling for an investigation. In short order, the state Department of Law Enforcement announced that it intended to do just that.
Florida is the most controversial and politically toxic example of ongoing vote-counting across the country, days after Tuesday’s general election. But in several other states, there are a lot of ballots still to count and, as in Florida, significant races hanging in the balance.
Given the nature of the fight in the Sunshine State, let’s start there.
As it stands on Thursday evening, Scott leads Nelson by fewer than 15,000 votes. On Tuesday, Scott seemed to have the election well in hand. But the slow tallying of results in some of the largest counties in the state has eaten into Scott’s lead. In Broward County, more than 680,000 votes have been cast. In Palm Beach County, more than 580,000.
These counties are the ones that raised Scott’s ire, in part because the number of total votes in the counties has been slowly increasing after polls closed. Broward is now up to 712,000 total votes cast, according to Scott (without all having been recorded). It’s an increase that is to Nelson’s benefit: He’s winning 69 percent of the vote in Broward and 58 percent in Palm Beach.
Scott and other Republicans complain that the way those ballots are being counted is iffy. Earlier Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) complained that the Broward County supervisor wasn’t properly reporting how many outstanding ballots there still were to be counted and noted past issues with vote-counting in the county. Rubio implied what Scott said more directly: Could that increase in votes be trusted?
“Every Floridian should be concerned there may be a rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward counties,” Scott said.
Most of what’s been presented to raise questions about the count is innuendo. That didn’t stop President Trump from weighing in on Twitter, implying something more nefarious.
Which isn’t to say that no odd things are happening. This is Florida, after all. For example: Politico’s Marc Caputo reported that an elementary school teacher found some provisional ballots behind her school on Thursday. It’s not clear what happened to those ballots.
“Their goal is to keep mysteriously finding more votes until the election turns out the way they want,” Scott said in his news conference.
Scott presented no evidence that the votes being added to the total in Broward are illegitimate. Despite multiple investigations into purported voting fraud, no widespread fraud has been detected in U.S. elections in recent years.
Nonetheless, on Thursday the Senate arm of the Republican Party filed a lawsuit to stop the count, which has already narrowed the race enough to force a recount. It’s one of three races that is sufficiently close to triggering that process, in fact, with the race for governor between Ron DeSantis (R) and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) also meeting that standard.
Rest assured, the weirdness doesn’t end there.
MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki has been highlighting another odd aspect of the vote in Broward County: There, far more than in most counties, voters declined to vote in the Senate race while still voting for governor and other statewide races, like agriculture commissioner. Usually, statewide federal races see among the heaviest vote totals. In Broward, regardless of voting method, the agriculture commissioner was getting more votes.
Why the drop-off in Broward? Perhaps because of the design of the ballot. In the infamous 2000 presidential election recount in the state, ballot design was a problem in Palm Beach County. This time, there is speculation that the placement of the Scott-Nelson race below the instructions at the far left of the sheet caused a number of voters to miss it.
In most parts of the county, there was at least a congressional vote on the ballot as well (as seen above), tucked in just under the Senate vote choice. But one part of the county overlaps with a district in which a House incumbent was running uncontested. There, the congressional race may not have been printed on the ballot at all, making it perhaps more likely that the Senate vote would be overlooked. Data scientist Matthew Isbell found that in that pocket of Broward, the number of people skipping a vote in the Nelson-Scott race had spiked.
There’s not much that can be done about that, of course.
The pending recount can’t start until all ballots are counted — including ballots sent in from overseas, which have up to 10 days after Election Day to arrive. The University of Florida’s Daniel Smith notes that there are thousands such ballots that could still come in.
If the additional outstanding votes in Broward break the same way as the already counted ones, Nelson would gain a net of about 11,000 votes. Scott would still lead.
Meanwhile, across the country, votes are still being counted in the Senate contest in Arizona. This race, between Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSally (R), has similarly been a nail-biter since Tuesday. On Thursday evening, Sinema took a slim lead of about 9,600 votes.
There are a lot more to come. In Maricopa County, where most of the state lives, there are 345,000 ballots still to be counted, according to the Arizona Republic. That’s to Sinema’s benefit: She’s narrowly beating McSally in the county.
What helped put Sinema over the top on Thursday, though, was a cluster of votes in Pima County. There, she is leading McSally by 13 points. The Republic estimates that there are still more than 50,000 votes to come in from that county.
The Arizona Republican Party, like the Party in Florida, has filed suit to block the on-going count of mail-in ballots. At least one well-known Arizonan objects to that idea.
Note what the shift in the Arizona vote means. Trump’s argument for the success of his party in the midterm elections hinges heavily on its success in the Senate. The Democrats holding Florida and winning in Arizona would mean a maximum net gain for the Republicans of only one seat in the Senate.
And then there’s California. California’s vote-counting pokiness has become rather infamous, thanks in part for its slow tallying of the 2016 vote. Hillary Clinton and Trump appeared to have been about tied in the popular vote on Election Day that year — only to see her lead swell to nearly 3 million votes as California finished up.
How many ballots could be added to California’s total? Perhaps as many as 4.5 million, according to the most recent estimate, more ballots than were cast in all of the House races in each of 44 other states.
There are an estimated 420,000 ballots that could be added to the total in Orange County, the once solidly red area south of Los Angeles that in 2016 for the first time in more than a half-century backed the Democrat for president. Orange County overlaps with two key House races in which Republicans are defending their seats. As of Thursday evening, one, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R), trailed his opponent by more than 4,700 votes. In the other race, Rep. Mimi Walters leads by 4,000 votes — but had led by over 6,200 before the state starting counting its absentee and provisional ballots.
It’s not unusual for campaigns facing dwindling leads to try to halt vote-counting. It’s not unusual for the candidate leading at the end of a vote to want to avoid a recount, either. But the scale of the remaining votes in California, the importance of the race in Arizona and the sheer drama of the fight in Florida make this an unusually interesting moment.
The drama of the counting of the votes, though, is mostly artificial. All the votes have been cast; all we’re seeing now is the pattern by which the final result is revealed. Or, if the conspiracy theory offered by Scott and his party is wrong, where the inclusion of those votes might be curtailed.