When last we heard from Bill Nelson’s team on Election Night, it suuuure sounded like the incumbent Senate Democrat was going to concede to Rick Scott. At the time, Scott led by about 0.6% with only a handful of precincts yet to report:
“This is obviously not the result Senator Nelson’s campaign has worked hard for,” said Pete Mitchell, Nelson’s campaign manager. “The senator will be making a full statement tomorrow to thank all those who rallied for his cause.”
That was then … this is now, maybe:
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) November 7, 2018
Despite Governor Rick Scott declaring victory, the Senate race is too close to call as of early Wednesday morning and is heading to a recount, according to Senator Bill Nelson’s office.
Unofficial results show Nelson narrowly trailing Scott by a little more than just 34,500 votes out of a total of 8.1 million ballots cast, according to the Senator’s office. That’s less than a one-half percentage point difference.
“We are proceeding to a recount,” Nelson said Wednesday morning in a brief statement.
“This race is over. It’s a sad way for Bill Nelson to end his career. He is desperately trying to hold on to something that no longer exists,” said Scott for Florida spokesman Chris Hartline.
The recount is not automatic, the Miami Herald points out, nor does it mean a hand count — at least not at first. And it’s not up to Nelson, either:
If the two candidates are separated by one-half of a percentage point or less, state law allows for a machine recount of the results. Only Secretary of State Ken Detzner — an appointee of Scott — can call for a recount.
If a machine recount ends with the two candidates separated by one-quarter of a percentage point or less, then a manual recount would take place. That’s a time-consuming process of manually counting the ballots.
That would bring back memories — nightmares, really — of the 2000 election, “hanging chads,” and court fights. However, the circumstances are different, not only because the voting technology has changed, but because the gap is a lot wider. Recounts tend to change votes in very small amounts because vote-tallying in the US is a highly reliable and accurate process in which irregularities are so minuscule as to be nearly meaningless. Only when races come down to a few hundred votes do recounts really matter, and even then only rarely change the outcome.
We all got an ample demonstration of the futility of recounts after the 2016 election, thanks to Jill Stein’s expensive experiments in attempting to bail Hillary Clinton out in the “blue wall” states. Even the controversial 2000 recount/challenge in Florida, which only involved a gap of a few hundred votes, turned out to eventually confirm the first set of results, at least when conducted as demanded by Al Gore’s campaign. The most famous (or notorious) recount success took place in Minnesota’s 2008 Senate race, which only involved a change of slightly over 500 votes.
With a gap of 34,500 votes, a recount won’t change anything at all, likely not even the percentages. A recanvass is more likely to turn up changes as mathematical errors get corrected. That’s especially true of a machine recount, given the high accuracy and efficiency of modern ballot-counting machines.
It’s difficult to believe that Nelson’s serious about this idea. I’d be surprised if Detzner goes along with even the machine recount, but even if he does, it won’t change the outcome.