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83,000 invalid Florida votes eclipsed margin in governor’s race

The combined total of invalid ballots outnumbered Republican Ron DeSantis’s margin of victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum by more than 50,000 votes.
CHRIS URSO   |   Times
An "I VOTED" sticker is seen Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 in Tampa.
CHRIS URSO | Times An "I VOTED" sticker is seen Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 in Tampa.
Published Feb. 6, 2019
Updated Feb. 7, 2019

Whether they meant to or not, more than 83,000 Florida voters didn’t cast a valid vote for governor, according to a new report prepared by state officials.

The combined total of invalid ballots outnumbered Republican Ron DeSantis’s margin of victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum by more than 50,000 votes. The race between DeSantis and Gillum was so close that it triggered an automatic statewide recount.

More than 8.2 million votes were cast in the high-profile race for governor that attracted national attention. The total number of “non-valid votes” was 1 percent, which was a lower rate than either the 2016 presidential election or the 2014 governor’s race.

These “non-valid votes” include ballots with write-in names such as Mickey Mouse and ballots that were left blank. It also includes those with votes for more than one candidate. More than 50,000 of the invalid ballots were left blank, suggesting that some people opted to skip the governor’s race.

Florida’s report — compiled from data collected by all 67 counties — is required after every major election. It got its start after the chaotic 2000 presidential election, which hinged on a contentious Florida recount famously involving “hanging chads” and more. The Division of Elections is supposed to review the data to determine if there was an “identifiable problem” that may have caused voter confusion or if voting systems malfunctioned.

In the report, state officials said the “data do not show anything to suggest or conclude that voter confusion existed during the election as a result of ballot design and/or ballot instructions issues, or that the voting equipment manifested any anomalies.”

The Division of Elections was required to look at the governor’s race — and not the U.S. Senate race where the final margin was much closer. Some critics have suggested that a flawed ballot design in Broward County may have caused voters to skip the Senate matchup between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott. Scott won the statewide race by slightly more than 10,000 votes.

“The elephant in the room that is not being reported is the U.S. Senate race and the severe undervote in Broward County,” said Daniel Smith, a political science professor from the University of Florida.

Florida was required to do statewide recounts in three statewide races. In two large counties — Broward and Palm Beach — the Democratic elections supervisors came under fire from Scott and other GOP politicians for the way they handled the recounts. Both supervisors wound up resigning in the aftermath.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who suspended Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, said last month he wants to make sure that Florida is not embarrassed again during the 2020 election.

But State Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican from Ocala, said Wednesday that he isn’t sure widespread changes are needed ahead of the next election.

“The more I learn, the more comfortable I am that we had a very close, but really a good cycle,” said Baxley, who is chairman of the Senate committee that would be responsible for any election law changes.

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