Manual recount sparks fears of Dem shenanigans in closest vital Florida race since Bush v Gore

Florida faces another possible election recount in perhaps the closest race it has seen since George Bush faced off with Al Gore nearly two decades ago.

Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell currently holds a razor-thin lead against his opponent, Nicole “Nikki” Fried, in the bid for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the Sunshine State.

(Image via WPLG)

While Caldwell, a seventh-generation Floridian who served eight years in the Florida House of Representatives, celebrated a win Tuesday evening, the numbers by Wednesday morning showed that lead was only by about 0.16 percentage points, the Tampa Bay Times reported.  If 0.5 percent of the votes, or less, separate the candidates, ballots go to automatic recount.

With nearly 8 million votes cast, Caldwell had just 12,521 votes more than Fried, a Fort Lauderdale attorney and medical marijuana proponent. The 4,008,205 votes for Caldwell and 3,995,684 for Fried by Wednesday morning were changing slightly as possible absentee, military and overseas ballots are tallied. As of Thursday morning, the candidates were divided by just 0.06 points with Fried trailing Caldwell by 4,105 votes.

“This is the closest race since we’ve seen here in Florida since Bush v. Gore in 2000—we’re heading into a recount,” Fried said in a statement. “We are going to ensure that every vote is counted, in a race this close, everyone’s’ voices must be heard so the will of the people is upheld.”

The 2000 presidential race saw Republican candidate George W. Bush with a 1,784-vote lead on Democrat Al Gore in Florida, eventually winning Florida’s electoral votes with a 537-vote lead. A recount also seems to be on the horizon in the state now as Gov. Rick Scott leads Sen. Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race by 34,435 votes as of Wednesday morning.

Fried has not conceded the race and Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa indicated on Wednesday that 4,000 additional votes had been counted for the Democrat, shrinking Caldwell’s lead to 0.1% or 8,244 votes, according to WPLG.

“This race is too close to call, and there are still thousands of votes to be counted,” Penalosa said. “Democrats will take every step to ensure that every single ballot is counted.”

Meanwhile, Fried has launched a fundraiser for the recount effort, claiming the “GOP is doing everything they can to take this seat & keep control of our cabinet.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times:

Counties have to report first unofficial returns to the state no later than noon on Saturday, according to the Division of Elections. By then, if a race is still within the recount margin, a machine recount will be ordered. Second unofficial returns will be due no later than 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15 if a machine recount is ordered. If any of the races are still within a 0.25 percent margin, a manual recount would then be ordered.

 

That dreaded recount of ballots by hand brings back memories of the infamous “hanging chad” controversy when the Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s weeks-long manual recount of the ballots in the 2000 presidential election was unconstitutional.

The state has watched as many tight races have had Democrats sinking their teeth into the possibility of recounts, hoping to find votes in Democratic bastions like Broward County. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party appealed to members Thursday in an effort to find voters who cast a provisional ballot to “help ensure that their votes are counted.”

Meanwhile, Caldwell’s campaign is confident the results will be in the 37-year-old Republican’s favor.

“We will be going through the State’s mandated recount and do not expect the results to change,” Brian Swensen, spokesperson for the Caldwell campaign said.

Caldwell, who served as chairman of the House Government Accountability Committee, appealed to voters with his conservative stance and long family ties to the state. Caldwell was endorsed by the National Rifle Association and considered  “jobs and water” to be the priorities of the office which, besides running the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, includes serving on the state Cabinet, according to CBS Miami.

The wide-ranging department helps farmers and ranchers, manages public lands, ensures food safety, oversees fruit imports at ports in the state and even oversees concealed-weapons licenses.

As a state House representative, Caldwell has defended the NRA in its efforts to handle concealed-weapons licenses in the state under outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. He also co-sponsored the Legacy Florida bill in 2016, which allocated about $200 million a year for clean-up projects in the Everglades.

His Democratic opponent has criticized Caldwell’s handling of environmental issues facing the state, including red tide and toxic algae, according to CBS Miami. Fried is a proponent of expanding medical marijuana and the hemp industry as she has appealed to more progressive voters in the state. Wells Fargo and BB&T reportedly terminated the 40-year-old’s campaign account due to contributions tied to the marijuana industry, the news outlet reported.

County canvassing boards will have to get the first unofficial returns in to the state Division of Elections by noon Saturday.

SEE UPDATED FLORIDA RESULTS HERE. 

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