It's been about 18 years since the nation focused on a massive recount story and asked, "What the heck, Florida?" Apparently, here we go again.
But the slow unspooling of election-night returns, with races for governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner too close to call and two South Florida counties still tallying votes on Friday, has Florida headed in the direction of its first statewide recount since 2000.
This time, please, let's do it right.
For starters, no hollering about elections being "stolen." So far, Florida officials seem to be earnestly invested in following the law. Focus on what's important. Every vote is a sacred trust. If properly cast, it needs to be counted.
Our elected leaders and party officials, Republican and Democrat, should at least agree on that. It won't be easy, given the incredibly high stakes. But the incredibly high stakes are why it's important to put aside partisan rancor and focus on the will of the voters.
As of this writing, here's where things stand:
Most Florida counties have not posted final returns for provisional ballots, which are cast when a voter lacks proper ID at the polls or faces other irregularities. Voters had until 5 p.m. Thursday to "cure" those problems, and both parties seemed engaged in a massive push to help their voters have their ballots counted. In addition, votes by mail from overseas military personnel and others must be counted if they arrive within 10 days of the election. Usually, those votes (which in previous years have trended Republican) don't change anything, despite the fact that Florida is home to one of the largest deployed-military populations in the country. This year, those votes might change something.
According to the state Division of Elections, Broward County is still counting early votes and mail ballots and Palm Beach County also has mail ballots outstanding. As votes in these two Democratic strongholds are tallied, the picture in at least three statewide races appears to be shifting. Once those votes are in, any race that is separated by less than 0.25 percent will be subject to a laborious hand recount. Races where candidates are apart by half a percentage point will be recounted by machine.
The agriculture commissioner race, between Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nikki Fried, appears to have flipped from the election-night call. On election night, Caldwell's lead was safely out of recount range. Now, it looks as if Fried might actually be Florida's next agriculture commissioner — pending, of course, a recount.
The margin in the U.S. Senate between Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Bill Nelson is hovering around the margin needed to trigger a hand recount.
The governor's race between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida seems headed to a machine recount.
While the prospect of recounts has pulses pounding, the reality is that — the agriculture commissioner's race notwithstanding — election night winners are the ones who usually end up claiming victory. That's particularly true in the case of the statewide races, where those minuscule percentage points represent thousands of votes.
But recounts also serve to remind everyone of this: Every vote is valuable. And one vote — just one — can sometimes make the difference.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD