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Florida Broward County misses deadline to submit recount by 2 minutes

by Kristen Timbrook - The Oregon Herald Thursday November 15, 2018    5:29 PM

The Florida Broward County elections office missed the state deadline to submit recount results by just 2 minutes.

"Basically, I just worked my ass off for nothing," said Broward elections official Joseph D'Alessandro.

"We uploaded to the state two minutes late so the state has chosen not to use our machine recount results," he said.

In Palm Beach County, outdated vote-counting equipment broke down, causing its elections office to miss the deadline. Only able to count one race at a time, they didn't even finish the one they started, the Senate race.

"It was a heroic effort and we just completed uploading our Saturday results, as was required by law," Bucher announced the deadline passed. "If we had three or four more hours, we might have made the time. We got stuck with some mechanical issues."

Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, also missed the deadline, citing an unexplained drop in the overall number of vote.

In all three counties, results reported Saturday — the deadline to submit the first unofficial results — will stand.

The narrow margins of those statewide results triggered three machines recounts which had to be completed by 3 p.m. Thursday. The recounts were in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner. Thursday's results determined the governor's race but led to hand recounts in the other two.

Miami-Dade County finished counting on Wednesday morning.

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes came out about 2:45 p.m. to announce the recount results were being uploaded to the state ahead of the 3 p.m. deadline, only to have to acknowledge later that the upload wasn't completed until 3:02 p.m., leading the state to reject the results.

"I have taken responsibility for every act in this office, good, bad or indifferent," Snipes said. "I always hold myself accountable."

D'Alessandro blamed his late submission on his unfamiliarity with the state's website.

D'Alessandro also said there was a 2,040 vote difference between the votes in the manual recount and those tabulated earlier.

"We believe that there was a comingling of ballots and that we did not correctly handle the ballots," D'Alessandro said. "We are going to look into that and see why that took place and go from there."

When Palm Beach County elections officials performed a check after their vote-counting machines overheated on Tuesday night, Bucher and her staff noticed the machines were not counting some ballot batches.

"Several boxes per precinct" were lost, she said.

Palm Beach County's failure to complete its machine recount prompted a lawsuit from the Bill Nelson camp seeking a hand recount of all ballots in the county. In the statewide hand recount in the Senate race, Bucher's office plans to hand recount 5,900 over-votes and under-votes.

Marc Elias, lead recount lawyer for Nelson, remained optimistic Thursday night his client will be able to close the gap, despite the incumbent senator trailing Gov. Rick Scott by roughly 12,600 votes.

Elias said Nelson will be able to gain votes through a variety of avenues. A federal judge has extended the deadline to Saturday for voters with mail-in ballots to fix signature issues and get their votes counted. More than 3,600 ballots exist in that category, according to an incomplete list released in federal court that lacked numbers from Miami-Dade County and several other large counties.

Elias is also pursuing litigation seeking to count mail-in ballots that were in U.S. Postal Service facilities on Election Day but were not delivered. State law requires those ballots to be received by election supervisors by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Then there is the actual hand recount, which Elias thinks could result in more votes for Nelson.

"This is what we've been seeking all along," Elias said. "This is where people lay eyes on ballots and make determinations as far as voter intent."

In particular, Elias is focusing on about 23,000 ballots in Broward County that machines indicated did not have a vote in the U.S. Senate race. Elias said he thinks machines are missing votes for Nelson. Another theory is poor ballot design caused voters to skip the race. The Senate contest was below the instructions in the bottom left corner.

State Sen. Gary Farmer, who had been hoping for Nelson to get a boost from the recount, did not know what to make of the announced vote.

"It's just disappointing to have a lower vote total now than what was reported previously," Farmer said.

Palm Beach County elections officials said they plan to start the state-ordered hand recounts at 11 a.m. Friday. Broward elections officials will plan to start at 7 a.m.

Broward's reported results include 23 provisional ballots that were rejected by the Canvassing Board last week because the voter signatures did not match the ones on file at the elections office, Snipes said.

Those are part of 205 provisional ballots the elections office opened and sorted before presenting them to the Canvassing Board. It was impossible to separate out the rejected ballots from the valid ones, so Snipes decided to count them all.

"It's my responsibility to ensure that validly cast votes are not disenfranchised," Snipes said.

The totals also include 25 ballot pages the elections office had not completed counting before sending its original results to the state on Saturday.

In Broward Circuit Court, Judge Jack Tuter rejected Republican efforts to block more than 6,000 ballots from being included in the recount results. Attorneys had argued the mail-in ballots were improperly accepted because they were logged in after 7 p.m. on election night, the deadline for their receipt.

Eugene Pettis, attorney for Snipes, said those ballots were mailed on time and picked up by election workers before the deadline, even though they were logged in later. He likened the process to allowing an in-person voter to cast a ballot if that voter was in line at the deadline — the vote remains valid even though it was actually cast later.

Tuter indicated he would only consider taking action if there was no way to preserve the integrity of the election — the losing party can challenge the inclusion of those ballots after the recounts are done.

Tuter also refused to take action on 205 provisional ballots that were opened before being presented to the Canvassing Board. The board ended up rejecting about two dozen of those ballots because it said their signatures did not match. Snipes included all the ballots in her recount vote.

Republicans say the whole batch should be rejected because the ballots can no longer be matched with their envelopes.

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