Judge in infamous 2000 Florida recount: ‘I had a job to do’

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Retired Judge Robert Rosenberg was front and center 18 years ago in Florida’s infamous recount in the presidential contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

Rosenberg, perhaps best remembered for eyeing ballots through a large looking glass, said in an Associated Press interview that he was brought in to lead the 2000 recount in Broward County and was determined to get it right.

“I had a job to do, and I wanted to do that job,” Rosenberg said.

In 2000, Bush ultimately was declared the winner by 537 votes in Florida, securing the presidency for him. This year, the statewide recounts involve the Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson; the governor’s race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum; and the agriculture commissioner’s race between Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nikki Fried.

As in 2000, much of the recount attention has focused on Broward County, which has had a litany of past missteps in its supervisor of elections office. Rosenberg said anything that undermines public confidence in voting is a bad thing.

“What happens is that, when people see these things, it sort of undercuts trust in the system and trust in the office. That’s not good,” Rosenberg said.

Florida implemented a series of changes after the 2000 recount, including deadlines for steps in the recount process, which are now facing their first tests. The Nelson and Scott campaigns in particular have turned to the courts in an effort to win the race.

State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. In the Senate race, Scott’s lead over Nelson was 0.14 percentage points. In the governor’s contest, unofficial results showed DeSantis ahead of Gillum by 0.41 percentage points. A potential hand recount in the Senate race could delay final results even longer.

The Scott and Nelson campaigns have both gone to court with a variety of claims, including lawsuits aimed at delaying the submission of the final tally by counties, challenging the use of email ballots in Bay County, and one that would allow votes to be counted if the signatures on the ballot and initial registration form don’t match.

“The thing to understand is that there is a playbook for recounts and one of the key elements is you bring the courts in, to either fight to stop the voting, or if you’re behind you fight to open up the voting as much as possible,” said Charles Zelden, history and political science professor at Nova Southeastern University.

“If you’re ahead, you want to stop it; if you’re behind, you got to get those votes counted,” Zelden added.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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