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Deadlines Looming in Florida Recounts  11/15 06:17

   Florida's bumpy election recount reaches a pivotal point Thursday as most 
counties across the state complete reviews that could determine the next 
senator and governor in one of America's top political battlegrounds.

   TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's bumpy election recount reaches a pivotal 
point Thursday as most counties across the state complete reviews that could 
determine the next senator and governor in one of America's top political 

   Barring a dramatic last minute court-mandated extension, Florida counties 
face a 3 p.m. deadline to wrap up their machine recounts.

   Some counties, such as the Democratic stronghold of Palm Beach County, have 
warned that they may not be able to make the deadline. Lawsuits that could spur 
further delays are still swirling, including one filed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson 
and Democrats that seeks to set aside the looming deadline.

   Still, more than a week after Election Day, the sense of resolution could be 
lacking Thursday. Once the machine recount is complete, state law requires a 
hand review of races with margins of less than 0.25 percentage points. That 
means the Senate race, where unofficial results have Republican Gov. Rick Scott 
ahead of Nelson by 0.14 percentage points, is almost certain to go to another 
recount that will last through the weekend.

   Although the machine recount may essentially bring a conclusion to the 
governor's race, where Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum by 
0.41 percentage points in unofficial results, the election won't be certified 
until Tuesday.

   Scott has already declared himself the winner of the Senate race, but Nelson 
and the Democrats have filed several lawsuits that could disrupt the recount 
now underway.

   Nelson, a three-time incumbent, has defended his legal strategy, saying in a 
statement Wednesday that "it remains the most important goal of my campaign to 
make sure that every lawful vote be counted correctly in this Senate race, and 
that Floridians' right to participate in this process is protected."

   But Republicans have criticized the effort, saying Democrats are trying to 
change election rules once the voting was complete. Republicans have filed 
their own lawsuits and fought back against Nelson and Democrats.

   "We will continue to fight to defend Florida law and uphold the will of the 
voters," said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Scott.

   That legal fight will continue again Thursday with hearings scheduled in 
federal court in two of the six outstanding lawsuits pending in Tallahassee.

   Lawyers for both sides are also eagerly awaiting a ruling from U.S. District 
Judge Mark Walker on whether he will order election officials to automatically 
count thousands of mail-in ballots that were rejected because the signatures on 
the ballots did not match signatures on file. Nelson and Democrats have argued 
election officials aren't handwriting experts and should not be allowed to 
throw out ballots because of the mismatch.

   But after a lengthy hearing, Walker said Wednesday that he was unlikely to 
side with Democrats and order the automatic counting of all the ballots with 
mismatched signatures. However, he did say he was open to giving voters extra 
time to fix their ballots.

   The developments are fueling frustrations among Democrats and Republicans 
alike. Democrats have urged state officials to do whatever it takes to make 
sure every vote is counted. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have 
argued without evidence that voter fraud threatens to steal races from the GOP.

   Another big question looming Thursday is whether all counties will finish 
the machine recount. Tallying machines overheated earlier this week in Palm 
Beach County. That caused mismatched results with the recount of 174,000 early 
voting ballots, forcing staffers to go back and redo their work.

   Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said the machines underwent maintenance 
right before the election, but "I don't think they were designed to work 24/7."


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