LARGO — Though Pinellas County has escaped the national scrutiny and legal action facing places like Broward and Palm Beach, votes there count just the same. So Sunday morning, officials set out to complete the rare machine recount process for three statewide races, as a handful of lawyers and advocates watched.
Contests for U.S. senator and Florida's governor and commissioner of agriculture were all within a 0.5 percent margin, enough for a recount. No local races in Pinellas were.
While the county's canvassing board — comprising Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, county civil judge John Carassas and former St. Petersburg City Council member Herb Polson — debated how much access to give candidates' representatives, the recount started without a hitch Sunday morning.
After one last late vote was counted and added to the mix — the totals for Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis and Democrat Nikki Fried each increased by one — the county zeroed out its totals, tested with fake data, and then started the recount.
About 9:20, workers moved nearly 440,000 ballots, which had sat in shrink-wrapped stacks of plastic trays in a warehouse, back into the Supervisor's offices.
While some counties are working around the clock to finish in time, Pinellas officials were confident they'd meet Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline while working close to normal business hours.
"We are on target right now," spokesman Dustin Chase said Sunday afternoon. "There is no mathematical reason for us to go to a 24-hour day." He said if something changed, the county would make an adjustment.
Workers loaded ballots into five scanners, which looked at the three close races at once but nothing else on the page. Any ballot damaged or marked incorrectly was flagged.
Flagged ballots came out of the scanning room and in front of the board. If any was clearly filled out correctly for the three races but damaged to the point the machine didn't count it, the board "duplicated" the ballot, correctly filling out a blank one, and scanned it again.
"This one's ripped, and this one's torn on the top," Clark said, going through the first few damaged ballots.
Pinellas was processing between 15,000 and 20,000 ballots an hour, a pace that would give officials some time to spare.
After Thursday, any race within a 0.25 percent margin will trigger a manual recount, during which the board will consider every voter's intent. If, for example, they circled candidates instead of filling bubbles, the board may decide to count it.