As Florida Recount Wraps Up, Nelson Appears To Have Lost Senate Race

November 16, 2018 12:58 p.m.

After a bitterly fought, high-stakes week of lawsuits and recounts, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) appears to have officially lost his reelection race to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Reporters on the scene Friday at recount headquarters in Broward County—the Democratic stronghold where Nelson expected to pick up a lead—said that a hand recount of ballots showed that the Democratic votes were just not there.

In lawsuits and public comments, the Nelson team had made the case that a voting machine error had failed to pick up data about the Senate race, causing a significant “undervote” that hurt the Democratic nominee. Nelson attorney Marc Elias pointed out that voters had cast ballots for other offices but left the Senate portion of their ballot conspicuously blank—a possible sign of machine tabulation error. But a hand recount indicated that was not the case.

Voter error caused by poor ballot design may instead by partly to blame for the undervote, as some elections experts speculated as returns trickled in last week. The Senate contest was relegated to the lower-left corner of the ballot, making it easier to overlook.

The Scott campaign quickly declared victory on Friday, blasting out an email with the subject line: “PSA for Bill Nelson: It’s Over.”

“Bill Nelson has served the country and the state of Florida for decades. But his DC lawyers don’t care about his legacy. All they care about is changing Florida’s election laws ahead of the 2020 presidential race. With the hand recount concluding in most counties across the state showing no significant change in the margin, it’s time for Bill Nelson to face reality and concede,” Scott spokesman Chris Hartline said in a separate statement.

Both the machine and subsequent manual recount were automatically triggered by state law because of the incredibly narrow margin between the two candidates. Nelson trails Scott by just .2 percent.

The Florida governor’s race also appears to be a lost cause for Democrats. A manual recount completed Thursday showed Republican Ron DeSantis leading Democrat Andrew Gillum by enough of a margin that the race did not go to a hand recount. The results had DeSantis ahead with 49.6 percent of the vote to Gillum’s 49.2 percent.

Despite this outcome, Gillum said he was not yet prepared to concede, insisting in a statement that “there are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted.”

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