The scene at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office on Friday could best be described as organized chaos as the manual recount of an estimated 8,000 election ballots kicked off slightly behind schedule.
At stake for the court-ordered recount is the U.S. Senate race between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson, as well as the Florida agriculture commissioner race between Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nicole “Nikki” Fried.
With the help of about 50 volunteers, the hand recount was completed around 5:30 p.m., according to Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett. He said the net change in the Senate race was just votes, with Nelson picking up 22 more votes and Scott gaining another 20. The race between Caldwell and Fried remained unchanged in Manatee.
A machine recount earlier in the week appears to have settled the race for governor between Republican Ron DeSantis, the apparent winner, and Democrat Andrew Gillum.
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Over and under votes were counted in the manual recount, which must be completed statewide by 5 p.m. Saturday. Over ballots indicate that two candidates may have been marked while under ballots appear that no candidate was selected based on the machines having trouble determining how the ballot was marked.
Ten tables were set up for the recount and each table had one Republican and Democrat reviewer, as well as representatives from each campaign. Elections office staff were the only ones allowed to handle the ballots and the reviewers had to agree on the intent of the voter on each ballot.
If they couldn’t, the ballots were placed into a disputed box, which then went to the Manatee County canvassing board for final determination. No technology could be used during the recount and even pens and pencils were prohibited.
Unlike the automated recount that was able to count votes for everything on the ballot at the same time, the manual recount focused on the final two races to be determined one at a time, beginning with the Florida Secretary of Agriculture race.
Republican volunteer Ken Piper was on hand to participate and had also done so in previous elections in Ohio.
“We can’t touch the ballots,” Piper said. “Bennett’s people will put one ballot at a time in front of us for us to review and everybody has to agree on the clear intent of the voter or that ballot goes back to the canvassing board. This is an important election and I’ve been here through the whole recount process so I wanted to be a part of this process.”
The final step of the recount process will be for Bennett to certify the results at 8:30 a.m. Sunday.