How Florida Recounts Work

Because there may be several statewide recounts as a result of the 2018 Midterm Election, now is probably a good time to review how the Florida recount process works.

After all the ballots are initially counted, if the vote spread between two candidates  is one half of one percent or less, then a machine (optical scanner) recount of all ballots occurs.  F.S. 102.141(7).  In addition to tallying all ballots, the machine recount also identifies those ballots that are overvotes (voter voted for both candidates) and undervotes (voter voted for neither candidate).  The identification of overvotes and undervotes is by machine, not the naked eye.

If the machine recount shows that the spread between the candidates is one quarter of one percent or less, a manual recount only of the ballots identified by the machine as overvotes and undervotes occurs, unless:  (1) the candidate who is behind requests that the recount not be made, or (2) the total number of overvotes or undervotes is fewer than the number of votes needed to change the outcome of the election. F.S. 102.166.  For example, assume that after the machine recount the spread between the candidates is 10,000 votes, and that spread is one quarter of one percent or less of the votes cast for the office.  Also assume the machine recount identified 5,000 ballots as overvotes or undervotes.  Under this scenario the candidate who is ahead by 10,000 votes would be declared the winner, because a manual recount of the 5,000 overvotes and undervotes would not, as a matter of arithmetic, be sufficient to change the result of the election.

If the total number of overvotes and undervotes would be sufficient to change the result of the election, then a manual recount of only the overvote and undervote ballots would occur to determine if these ballots clearly indicate a vote for just one of the candidates.  The interpretation of the voter’s mark or markings on the overvote/undervote ballot is governed by detailed standards promulgated by the Florida Division of Elections.

Thomas D. Shults, Esq.

About Thomas D. Shults, Esq.

Tom Shults is a Florida Bar Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. He has represented clients in election and sunshine law issues, complex business and commercial disputes and probate and trust suits. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1983 and has maintained an active trial practice in state and federal courts for over 35 years. Mr. Shults successfully represented the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections in Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections et al. v. Browning et al. , where the Florida Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of Sarasota County’s charter election law amendments. Mr. Shults has served on the Professional Ethics Committee of The Florida Bar and is the past Chairman of the Code and Rules of Evidence Committee of The Florida Bar. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Community Service Award of the Sarasota County Bar Association for his work with the Sarasota Mental Health Community Centers. In 2013 he was nominated for circuit court judge by the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Committee. Mr. Shults has served on the faculty of the Kessler-Eidson Program for Trial Techniques at Emory University School of Law and on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy Program for Practicing Lawyers at Nova Southeastern University School of Law. Mr. Shults grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida and is a graduate of St. Petersburg High School (1973), Florida State University (B.S. 1977) and Washburn University School of Law (J.D. cum laude 1982). He is veteran of the United States Army.
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