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U.S. Senate, Agriculture Commissioner Races Headed To Manual Recount

Floridians will have to wait a little longer to get official word about who will be the state’s next agriculture commissioner and who will serve in the U.S. Senate.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Thursday that manual recounts of “overvotes” and “undervotes” will be required in the two statewide races, as the margins between candidates were below 0.25 percent after machine recounts in most counties.

The announcement came amid a series of legal battles that focus on the race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Gov. Rick Scott.

Related: More Florida Recount News

Scott continued to hold a lead after the machine recounts, as did Democrat Nikki Fried in her race against Republican Matt Caldwell for agriculture commissioner.

Manual recounts are also required in three state legislative races: in Hillsborough County’s Senate District 18, where Democratic challenger Janet Cruz leads incumbent Republican Dana Young; in Volusia County’s House District 26, where Republican Elizabeth Fetterhoff is ahead of incumbent Democrat Patrick Henry; and in Palm Beach County’s House District 89, where Republican Mike Caruso leads Democrat Jim Bonfiglio.

Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker rejected a request from the Nelson campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to extend recount deadlines because of problems in Palm Beach County. The machine recount deadline was 3 p.m. Thursday for results in the Nov. 6 elections.

Barring changes caused by other court rulings, the deadline for manual-recount results is noon Sunday. By then, county canvassing boards will have to determine the intentions of thousands of voters who caused their ballots to be set aside by tabulating machines because they skipped voting in contests --- “undervotes” --- or made ballot marks beyond what was required --- “overvotes.”

Unofficial results Saturday showed Scott ahead by 12,562 votes, but that number increased slightly to 12,603 after the manual recounts. Palm Beach, Broward, Highlands, Hillsborough, Clay, DeSoto, Hardee and Lee counties did not post new numbers after the Saturday results.

At the same time, Fried, an attorney and lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, saw her Saturday lead drop by 21 votes, from 5,326 to 5,307, over Caldwell, a state House member from North Fort Myers. The two are trying to replace term-limited Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

More than an hour before the recount results were posted, Scott’s campaign sent out an email labeling him “Senator-elect.”

“Last week, Florida voters elected me as their next U.S. Senator and now the ballots have been counted twice,” Scott said in a statement. “I am incredibly proud and humbled by the opportunity to serve Florida in Washington. Our state needs to move forward. We need to put this election behind us, and it is time for Bill Nelson to respect the will of the voters and graciously bring this process to an end rather than proceed with yet another count of the votes --- which will yield the same result, and bring more embarrassment to the state that we both love and have served.”

Rather than concede, Nelson’s lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, announced a lawsuit was being filed against Palm Beach County and the Florida secretary of state seeking to require a hand count of all ballots in the county “due to systematic machine failure during the machine recount.”

In a conference call with reporters, Elias said the campaign had sought all along the statewide manual recount. He contended the margin will go down “and ultimately disappear entirely” if vote-by-mail ballots that were cast before Election Day but arrived after a deadline are counted and as canvassing boards view the undervotes and overvotes.

“This is where people lay eyes on ballots and make determinations as to voter intent,” Elias said in a conference call with reporters. “Machines are wonderful counters for the vast majority of ballots, but there are going to be, and we know that there are, significant numbers of ballots, in the tens of thousands or higher, that the machines couldn’t read one way or the other.”

Elias said Broward County has about 23,000 undervotes and overvotes. Broward, which completed the machine recount, failed to get the updated numbers to the state before Thursday’s deadline.

Palm Beach County, using aging voting equipment, failed to complete the machine recount and resubmitted its earlier unofficial numbers.

Hillsborough County, which suffered a pair of power outages during its recount on Wednesday, also re-submitted its original unofficial numbers.

Even with the slight decline in overall numbers after the machine recount, Fried’s campaign declared victory, something Caldwell did on election night.

“Even though I will be the only member of my party on the Cabinet, I will govern based on my values and be a voice for priority issues that reach beyond partisanship, priorities shared by Floridians,” Fried said in a prepared statement.

However, Caldwell wasn’t ready to concede, vowing to “keeping fighting” while calling out Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.

“I am pleased the recount will move forward as we continue working to uncover the truth about what happened in Broward County, where over 80,000 ballots appeared without explanation in the vote tally after election night,” Caldwell said in a statement.

The Florida Elections Canvassing Commission is slated to meet Tuesday to certify the election results. Scott is a member of the commission, along with two Cabinet members, but he has said he intends to recuse himself from the panel.