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AP Explains: Workers try to decipher intent in hand recount

A Republican observer looks at a ballot during a hand recount, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. Florida's acrimonious U.S. Senate contest is headed to a legally required hand recount after an initial review by ballot-counting machines showed Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson separated by fewer than 13,000 votes. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Sometimes voters put a check next to a candidate’s name instead of filling in an oval that a voting machine can read. Other times, they mistake the abbreviation for “Republican Party” with the abbreviation for “Reform Party” and pick both in the same race. Some voters just cast blank ballots.

On Friday, workers in elections offices across Florida examined ballots that weren’t recorded by voting machines to try to figure out what voters intended. The outcome could determine the winner of the U.S. Senate race where Republican Gov. Rick Scott led incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by fewer than 13,000 votes.

A look at the manual recount:

THOUSANDS OF BALLOTS

More than 93,000 ballots were under review ahead of Sunday’s deadline, according to an Associated Press survey of Florida’s 67 county elections offices.

A third of those — almost 31,000 ballots — came from Broward County, which has been the target of Republican criticism over how ballots were being counted. A Broward County election official described those numbers Friday as “absolutely normal.”

“A lot of people don’t always vote races. If they don’t know who the candidate is, they don’t vote the race,” said Joseph D’Alessandro, Broward’s director of election planning and development.

But neighboring counties Miami-Dade and Palm Beach had substantially fewer — about 10,000 and 6,000 ballots, respectively.

LOOKING FOR HINTS

The ballots being manually recounted were overwhelmingly undervotes, where the machine count didn’t register a selection in a race.

Election workers were looking for any marks on the ballot, such as a check, circle or X next to a candidate’s name, or the candidate’s name handwritten in. The examiners also were looking to see if a voter picked a straight-party ticket to help them determine intent.

“Voters do strange things — that’s one thing I’ve learned in this job,” said Mary Jane Arrington, supervisor of elections in Osceola County in metro Orlando. “I’ve had people go to the polls, wait in line and cast a blank ballot. I don’t know why a voter would do that, but they do.”

Often times, not picking a candidate is a calculated choice, said Michael Ertel, supervisor of elections for Seminole County in metro Orlando.

“A lot of people came to the polls only to vote-in their local City Council member who they really like,” Ertel said. “They maybe didn’t intend to vote for governor or senator.”

BALLOT DESIGN

Broward County’s ballot design came under fire in the days after the Nov. 6 election for placing the U.S. Senate race in the bottom left corner, below voter instructions — a place where some critics say voters were likely to skip the race.

In Osceola County, the race for agriculture commissioner also was placed in the lower left corner. That may partially explain why that race had large numbers of undervotes, Arrington said, although voters also may not have known much about the candidates and left the race blank.

The AP survey put the number of overvotes — where a voter cast more than one vote for a race — and undervotes statewide at almost 224,000 ballots in the race for agriculture commissioner, which is also subject to a hand recount.

MAKING DECISIONS

At the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections on Friday in Largo, Florida, dozens of workers clustered around tables, creating a quiet frenzy of activity as they took ballots out of trays, handed them to one another and stared at each ballot.

One ballot showed three ovals filled out in the Senate race and a handwritten, “Bill Nelson.” On another ballot, a voter used a red pen.

At one table, a woman held up a ballot and said, “I think if it were circled …”

“This person circled all of the partisan races, so it meets consistency for Rick Scott,” a man said.

“Rick Scott,” the woman echoed.

“Hm,” said another man at the table.

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Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics .

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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