A week after Election Day, three major statewide races in two states are still too close to call — and some are undergoing a recount.
In Georgia’s governor race, Democrat Stacey Abrams is holding out hope for a recount or even a runoff; and in Florida two recounts are underway for the governor and Senate races, both of which Republicans narrowly lead.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) leads incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) by 0.14 percent in the first count of the ballots; Rep. Ron DeSantis (R), whom the Associated Press declared the winner in the Florida governor race, is ahead of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) by 0.4 percent in the first count; and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) is ahead of former state House Minority Leader Abrams (D) by 2 percent of the vote.
The fourth major outstanding race after Election Day, between Arizona’s Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Rep. Martha McSally (R) for the Arizona Senate seat, was called for Sinema on Monday evening.
The situation in each state is unique. In Georgia, Kemp was in charge of administering the election while also running in it. He’s engaged in moves to purge voters, of which voting rights academic Carol Anderson wrote in the Atlantic, “if the Georgia race had taken place in another country — say, the Republic of Georgia — U.S. media and the U.S. State Department would not have hesitated to question its legitimacy.” Meanwhile, in Florida, Scott is claiming — baselessly — that Democratic voter fraud is to blame for the razor-thin margins.
President Donald Trump has joined the chorus, calling for the recounts to stop and revert back to what was counted on Election Day — or, in other words, an incomplete tally of the votes cast.
The stakes are enormous; the Florida Senate race could determine if Republicans have an extremely narrow majority or a comfortable one. Both Democrats running for governor could have huge policy impacts on people in the state — and potentially weigh in on the maps the states redraw in 2020. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening in each state.
Recounts are underway in Florida
Florida, America’s most notorious swing state, is recounting both its major statewide elections, where Republicans are narrowly leading.
By Saturday, November 10, when counties were required to report their preliminary tallies, the races between Gillum and DeSantis for governor and Nelson and Scott for Senate were too close to call — margins that had shrunk over the week as ballots in the most populous southeastern regions of the state were counted.
Under Florida state law, a machine recount has been triggered in the governor’s race because DeSantis’s margin of victory was less than 0.5 percent, and a manual recount — in which the “overvotes” and “undervotes” are counted by hand — has been triggered in the Senate race because Scott is leading by less than 0.25 percent.
This matters, particularly in the Senate race, where there have been a surprising number of undervotes in one region: Broward County, a Democratic stronghold. Roughly 25,000 ballots tallied in the county had the Senate race left blank — more than almost every other statewide race on Broward ballots — and it’s a mystery why. Some have said it’s because of how the ballot is formatted, putting the Senate race on the bottom of the page under a long block of voting instructions. But a lawyer for Nelson thinks it’s a machine error that would be rectified with a hand recount.
The recount has a Thursday deadline. If counties miss the deadline, the official vote tally will revert back to what was initially reported over the previous weekend. Already some of the most populous counties in Florida have warned that Thursday is too close of a deadline to count all the ballots, an outcome that Republicans in the state are hoping for.
There’s already a lot of partisan anger in the state. Activists in Miami-Dade County have been protesting around photos of undelivered ballots stacked inside a mail distribution center. And Republicans, including Trump and Scott, have claimed — without evidence — that voter fraud is responsible for Democrats’ growing vote tallies. Scott even requested the state investigate, but Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement said it had received “no allegations of criminal activity.”
In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams is trying to hold on
Kemp has declared victory, but Democrat Abrams isn’t conceding yet.
Over the past week, Democrats tightened the governor race to just 2 percent, and Abrams’s campaign said Sunday there were about 26,000 provisional ballots that needed to be counted — notably more than the number of ballots the state says are remaining.
Abrams is holding on to hope that she can either close the gap enough to trigger a recount, or even a runoff election. In Georgia, if neither candidate can win with 50 percent-plus-one-vote, the race will go to a runoff election on December 4 — something Abrams’s campaign is already preparing for, approving money for TV advertising.
As of Sunday, Abrams needed to close the margin with Kemp by a little more than 19,000 votes to trigger a recount, and by more than 21,000 to send the race to a runoff.
The race in Georgia is a story about voter access. Kemp, who until last week was still the Secretary of State in Georgia, tasked with overseeing the elections — including his own — has been embroiled in allegations of voter suppression, scrutiny from voting rights groups.
The month before the election, the Associated Press reported that 53,000 voter registrations, 70 percent of them from black applicants, were being held by Kemp’s office for failing to clear an “exact match” process that compares registration information to Social Security and state driver records.
Kemp’s office is also under scrutiny for voter purges across the state. A significant number of voters were purged from the rolls in Georgia in the past five years. According to a report released this summer by the Brennan Center, Kemp’s office purged roughly 1.5 million registered voters between the 2012 and 2016 elections. The AP notes that Kemp’s office purged some 670,000 voters last year.
Now as the attention turns to counting the ballots that actually were cast, Abrams is still concerned that votes are being left on the table. That said, she has some big margins to make up if she is going to trigger a recount, or a runoff.
Sinema wins, even as Arizona is still counting mail-in ballots
The Arizona Senate race was extremely close, but on Monday evening, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema led Republican Martha McSally by a comfortable enough margin — over thirty-six thousand votes and 1.5 percentage points — that major outlets projected Sinema as the winner. McSally conceded.
Because Arizona relies so heavily on mail-in ballots — about 75 percent of residents vote this way — it’s taken the state a bit longer to count all the votes that have come in and it could be at least another day before the race is officially called.
This glacial pace is something to which residents have become well accustomed. In past elections, voters have waited more than 10 days for the final results in tightly contested state and local races.
There’s a reason the process for counting mail-in ballots is so slow. A key part of the hold-up is the need to verify these ballots. One way officials do this is by making sure the signatures on the ballots match up with residents’ signatures on file. If they don’t, officials reach back out to voters to confirm the ballots’ authenticity.
Because some of the mail-in ballots don’t arrive until very close to Election Day, this verification process can take place afterward and make tabulating the votes take significantly longer.
This process had previously been the subject of a Republican lawsuit, which sought to stop the count on certain ballots that GOP groups argued were verified inconsistently. A judge ultimately rejected the suit last week, though it indirectly prompted a tweet protesting the Arizona race from President Donald Trump who falsely accused the state of counting votes where the signatures didn’t match.
The Arizona election was a crucial opportunity for Democrats to flip a long-conservative Senate seat, something Republicans have desperately sought to prevent.