TAMPA — A Hillsborough County judge gave Rick Scott's U.S. Senate campaign a minor court victory on Wednesday.
In an emergency hearing held that morning, Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Thomas ruled that campaign representatives will be allowed to observe the ongoing machine recounts in Hillsborough County from inside the physical room they are taking place in. No longer will those representatives have to watch the recount from outside the room, through a window.
"While it is frustrating that this Supervisor of Elections chose not to follow the law until ordered to do so by a court, we are glad that our election observers now have the access they need to witness the ongoing recount," Chris Hartline, a Scott campaign spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Scott's campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed suit Tuesday against the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections over the agency's recount procedure. The lawsuit complained that campaign election watchers were not allowed to observe the machine recount from inside the same room where it was taking place.
Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said the county initially separated the recount room from the viewing room based on how the agency's attorney, Mary Helen Farris, interpreted state law.
The attorney believed that "the (state) rule did not allow them to go into the actual room where the votes were being scanned," Latimer said.
Still, Latimer said he plans to heed the judge's order.
Not under dispute in this case: whether campaign representatives will be allowed in the same room as a potential manual recount. Latimer said his office had always planned to allow campaign officials into the manual recount room.
Hillsborough County will likely have three races go to a manual recount, which is mandated by Florida law when the margin of a race falls within 0.25 percent.
The U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Sen Bill Nelson was separated by 0.15 percent after initial statewide results were reported.
The agriculture commissioner race between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell was within 0.06 percent. And the race for Florida Senate District 18 between Democrat Janet Cruz and Republican incumbent Dana Young fell within 0.18 percent.
Scott, Fried and Cruz all led their respective races heading into the recount phase.