It was noon on Monday and Miami-Dade County was about halfway done with its ballot recount for last week’s elections. Yet next door, in Broward County, the official recount hadn’t even started yet.
The reason is that in Miami-Dade officials started sorting through pages of the ballots on Thursday, days before the Florida Secretary of State’s office gave the official order of a statewide recount, according to Robert Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections office.
The first order of business in the Florida recount of elections is to separate the pages on the ballots. All three of the races that are being recounted -- the Governor’s race, the US Senate race and the Agriculture commissioner race -- are on the first page, so those pages need to be isolated in every single one of the 67 counties across the state.
Broward County hadn’t started sorting through the pages of the ballots until Sunday, since it was still running the initial ballots through machines on Saturday. Broward officials say they do not expect to be done with sorting the ballots until Monday night or early Tuesday.
This weekend, when asked about why Broward County is lagging so far behind Miami-Dade, a comparable county, Broward’s Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes responded: “Let me check, I’ll check,” but did not directly respond to the question.
One of the potential reasons for the lag is that Broward staffers have simply not worked as many hours as Miami-Dade elections staff. Snipes let her staff go home at about 2:30 a.m. on Election Night, according to the New York Times, and then dismissed her staff at around 4pm on Saturday for rest. The Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections office has kept staff working 24-hours a day since Election Day.
Prior to last week’s elections, Broward County bought a new fleet of eight ballot-reading machines. Notably, Miami-Dade came into election season with a fleet of nine older models. (Broward has received four additional machines since Election Day and Miami-Dade County has received an additional five machines.)
Regardless, Broward officials are confident they will be able to meet the recount deadline of Thursday at 3 p.m.
Broward’s slow handling of the elections process has drawn criticism and protests from mostly conservatives. Among them are people like Gov. Rick Scott and President Trump who have claimed without evidence that the county is a hotbed for election fraud. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Secretary of State’s Office say they have not found any evidence that voter fraud is happening.
Heavily Democratic Broward County’s votes trickled in slowly after most other counties had already posted preliminary results, which had the effect of narrowing leads held by Republicans for Governor and US Senate races days after the election. In the case of the Agriculture Commissioner race, the slow-moving results saw Democrat Nikki Fried suddenly overcome Republican Matthew Caldwell, leading Fried to declare victory.
Gov. Scott has sued elections officials in Broward and Palm Beach Counties for public records violations. Courts have so far ruled in his favor. (He has not argued about “fraud” in his lawsuits, only while giving stump speeches.)
The Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections office started sorting through ballots in preparation for a recount last Thursday, like Miami-Dade County. But Susan Bucher, the county’s elected Supervisor of Elections, has been publicly skeptical that her staff will be able to complete the recount deadline for all races.
The ballot counting equipment used in Palm Beach County has been in use for over a decade, and the state’s recount deadline is “irresponsible,” she said.
“Our equipment isn’t designed to meet the deadline and we’ve been complaining to the state for almost 10 years and they’ve never extended the deadline,” Bucher told the Palm Beach Post. “We’ll give it our best shot effort, but what we need to do is machine-recount all of our ballots.”
Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz looks at the situation engulfing Broward and Palm Beach Counties, and expressed relief that Miami-Dade is not the center of controversy.
“I attribute it to professionalism, I attribute it to a great elections director that we have, and anticipating everything that can happen,” Diaz told WLRN. “We’re the largest county and we have the largest amount of votes, so everything has to be flawless.”