TAMPA — Two dozen or so observers, including Republican lawyers dispatched from Washington and Miami, gathered for the uneventful start of the machine recount at Hillsborough County's Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center near Brandon. Hillsborough has three statewide races and one state senate race that qualify for the machine recount.
Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said he had no doubt his office would meet Thursday's deadline for completing the machine recount of more than 520,000 ballots as well as the deadline three days later for the manual recount of the ballots where the scanner machines did not tally votes for the races in question on Election Day.
Nor did he see the likelihood that the results would shift much.
"I do not expect to see significant change," said Latimer, noting that in a Hillsborough School Board recount in 2016 the winner started with a lead of 0.26 percentage points and after the recount ended with a lead of 0.26 percentage points.
Among the ballots expected to be reviewed manually after the machine recount, Latimer said about 200 appeared in the initial tally to have more than one vote cast and about 25,000 appeared to have no votes cast. The undervote ballots take little time for the canvassing board to whip through — with campaign representatives closely watching their work — and the overvote ballots tend to be fairly straight forward as well.
"Most of the time it's pretty obvious what the voter intent was," Latimer said. "We'll get where somebody put their pen down and made a dot and then picked it up and then bubbled in the one that they wanted. The machine is going to kick that out as an overvote, and the canvassing board is going to look at it. It's going to be very obvious what the voter's intent was, and that candidate will get that vote recorded."
Unlike in the contested presidential election of 2000, the state has a set of standards for which to judge what is a valid vote or not. Recounts are actually relatively common, but they rarely receive much attention and they have not involved statewide races in nearly two decades.
J.C. Planas, a Republican lawyer from Miami monitoring Hillsborough's Dana Young vs. Janet Cruz state senate race, has worked on multiple Florida recounts and agreed the likelihood of the results changing in most of the statewide races is slim.
"The whole process will add between three and five new voters per 5,000 to 10,000 ballots. And then they almost always break down in the same proportion (as the preliminary results)," said Planas, a former state legislator.