Federal Judge Weighs Delay As Deadline Looms For Florida Recounts

Updated at 6:32 a.m. ET

The Florida recount saga enters a new chapter today. Maybe.

The state’s 67 counties are supposed to complete machine recounts for the governor, Senate, and agriculture commissioner races by 3 p.m. ET. But Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is about 12,000 votes behind Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate race, has asked a federal judge to push that deadline back so every county can complete its second tally of ballots.

One heavily-populated county has already indicated it will almost certainly miss the deadline if it isn’t changed.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote “time is of the essence in resolving this matter” in scheduling a 9 a.m. status hearing on Thursday to hear arguments on the case.

By the current timeline, machine recounts of all the state’s more than 8 million ballots are supposed to be done by Thursday. If any of the three statewide races are found after that recount to be within a quarter of a percentage point margin, then the entire state will conduct a hand recount of ballots that either registered an undervote or an overvote in the race (an undervote is when a marking isn’t registered for the race, an overvote is when more than one marking is registered).

Barring lawsuits, that process that would need to be completed by Sunday.

Walker ruled early Thursday morning to allow some 4,000 Floridians whose ballots were rejected due to issues with mismatched signatures to resolve those problems by Saturday. The number of ballots at issue in that ruling would be too small to change the lead in the statewide races if the margins are large enough to avoid a hand recount, but if there is a hand recount then those voters would be able to fix signature issues before the Sunday deadline.

The chief argument for pushing back the timeline for machine recounts is that two South Florida counties, Broward and Palm Beach, weren’t done with their recounts yet as of Wednesday night.

A Broward County election official said that the county expects to be completed by Thursday morning.

But Palm Beach County is far from finished. The county uses the oldest ballot counting equipment in the state and is only able to recount one statewide race at a time.

Over the past few days, those machines overheated, spoiling vote counts, and forcing the county to restart its recount of about 175,000 votes, according to NPR member station WLRN.

“I don’t think they were designed to work 24/7 – kind of like running an old car from here to L.A. And so, you know, things happen to them,” said Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, according to the Associated Press.

A number of other lawsuits are swirling around the recount. Judge Walker indicated Wednesday that he was unlikely to order election officials to count thousands of mail-in ballots that were rejected because signatures on the ballots didn’t match signatures on file.

Nelson’s legal team argues the ballots should count because the way the signatures are checked is inconsistent and unreliable.

Walker seemed more amenable to giving voters extra time to fix issues with their signatures, but he has yet to issue a ruling.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.