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‘Virtually tied’ Florida races highlight challenges with voting technology

In Florida, extremely close vote margins have triggered machine recounts in three races, including those for governor and Senate. As in the presidential election of 2000, Broward County finds its election practices under intense scrutiny. Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the technical details and how confident Florida voters can feel about the results.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Results from Florida's Senate and governor's races remain unclear a week after the polls closed.

    The state is once again mired in recounts and lawsuits. At the center of the drama is South Florida's Broward County. Officials there are working around the clock to recount more than 700,000 ballots ahead of Thursday's deadline.

    Adam Smith is the political editor for The Tampa Bay Times, and he joins me now.

    Adam, you have been following this story, as you have all of Florida's recent elections in recent memory. Remind us what triggered this recount.

  • Adam Smith:

    Well, it's a virtually tied election, three of them really, statewide.

    You have got all within 1 percentage point, is the governor's race, the Senate race, and there's an agriculture commissioner race. And under state statute, if you get within half-a-percentage point, you have to have a machine recount, and that's 67 different counties. So that's what they're doing now.

    And the deadline to complete that is Thursday afternoon.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So the recount is across the state, but so much focus on Broward County. Why?

  • Adam Smith:

    Because Broward has a track record of just botching these elections, election after election after election, Palm Beach County to a lesser extent, too.

    And so they were — after the votes seemed to have been counted on election night, it turned out there were a lot more coming from Broward County. That's why Bill Nelson didn't concede. That's why Andrew Gillum, running for governor, took back his concession.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we should say, again, Broward County, the home to Fort Lauderdale.

    A lot of focus, Adam Smith, on overvotes and undervotes. Explain the significance of that of what the ballot itself looked like.

  • Adam Smith:

    OK.

    One of the big questions in Broward County and really the great hope of the Democrats and Bill Nelson pulling this out — he's down by about 13,000 points so far — I mean, 13,000 votes so far, and there are about 25,000 or so ballots that show no vote for that Senate race.

    So the question is, was it a problem in the design, that people just skipped over it, or was there some problem in the machines that they're not reading votes that were really cast? The Nelson campaign is hoping and supposedly expecting that it's going to turn out to be a giant machine snafu.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have got monitors following all this. And if it's close enough, there would be a manual recount? Is that what we're looking at here possibly?

  • Adam Smith:

    If it then gets between — under a quarter of a percentage point, there is going to be manual recount. And that seems like a given that that's going to happen in the Senate race and probably also this agricultural race. And then there are a few legislative races that aren't statewide.

    So that's where we're going to really have deja vu from 2000, where you are going to have these canvassing boards looking at all of these ballots. There are no longer chads, but there are things like, did they properly mark the ballot? Did they X out one vote and then cast another vote?

    And there's going to be some interpreting of what really constitutes a vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, President Trump, a number of Republicans have been talking about fraud, unfairness in the way this has been conducted. Is there evidence of that?

  • Adam Smith:

    Well, there is zero evidence of fraud or stealing votes or packing ballot boxes, as Scott and the president have been saying.

    There is a lot of evidence of incompetence and violating proper protocols, et cetera. But so far, both the state law enforcement agency and the Division of Elections — these are two bodies that really report to Republican elected officials — they say there is zero evidence so far of any actual fraud or trying to steal an election, as the president says.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, for those of us who were around in 2000 and remember that recount that went on for days, we remember the Republicans were particularly aggressive on the legal front, the public statement front.

    How would you compare the two parties right now in how they're handling all of this?

  • Adam Smith:

    Very similar, unfortunately, in some ways.

    You have got the Republicans very much casting this as an effort to invalidate and steal a valid election, and you have the Democrats doing all they can to have a very liberal interpretation of what kind of ballots should be counted as votes, et cetera.

    And so far, a number of these lawsuits, the governor tried to impound the voting machines at one point to sort of raise doubts. That was tossed out. So there are about at least seven lawsuits that I can count off the top of my head that have been filed so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's so much at stake, as there always is in every election. But we know so much at stake particularly in this — from Washington's standpoint in the Senate race, because of what's happened there.

    Adam Smith, how confident can Florida voters be, can American voters be that, when all is said and done, these votes are going to be counted correctly?

  • Adam Smith:

    I don't know the answer to that.

    I think whenever — we're so polarized right now, that I think, certainly, if the election were overturned — I shouldn't say overturned, but if Nelson pulled ahead, I'm sure we'd have half the country very, very, very doubtful.

    So the problem is, when you get elections that are this close, it kind of shines a spotlight on how problematic our voting technology and processes often are.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're going to remember your answer just now, and as we watch to see what happens.

    Adam Smith of The Tampa Bay Times, thank you.

  • Adam Smith:

    Thank you.

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