LAUDERHILL, Florida—The state’s top election official ordered a recount in both the governor and Senate races on Saturday, with the Democratic candidates edging closer to their Republican opponents. Meanwhile, protesters from both sides of the political spectrum flocked here, intensifying the fight for key seats in the nation’s largest battleground.
Secretary Ken Detzner issued the order after the unofficial tally from Tuesday’s election fell within the margin to trigger a recount mandated under state law. The results of a machine recount for the governor’s race are due by 3 p.m. on Thursday, he said. The Senate race will require a hand recount of ballots.
Moments after the announcement, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor, withdrew the concession he made in his race against Republican Ron DeSantis with a “call to count every vote.”
As of Saturday, unofficial results showed DeSantis with a 0.42 percent (less than 34,000 votes) lead over Gillum in the governor’s race while Republican Gov. Rick Scott held a 0.16 percent (less than 13,000 votes) lead over Democrat Bill Nelson in the race for a seat on the U.S. Senate. Anything below 0.5 in the state of Florida triggers an automatic machine recount.
Along with governor and senate races, Detzner announced there will be a recount for the agriculture commissioner, where Democrat Nikki Fried leads Republican Matt Caldwell by an estimated 5,326 votes or a tiny .06 percent margin.
In the Democratic stronghold of Broward County, which has become ground zero for the recount, Lisa Crawford, an attorney for the Broward Supervisor of Elections spoke with The Daily Beast as she dodged protesters on her way to her car. She said that the Broward Elections office would begin its recount at 7 a.m. on Sunday, but that results would not be reported until Thursday at 3 p.m..
“So all of these candidates who are waiting for updates as far as recounts, they will be waiting,” she said. Crawford said candidate representatives would be allowed to be present during the recount process, and addressed allegations of fraud against Brenda Snipes, the Broward Supervisor of Elections. “These races are highly competitive,” she said. “I think she has answered questions the best that she can.”
Gillum, who had conceded on Tuesday when it looked as if the margin was beyond recount territory, issued a statement via Twitter following the announcement, saying: “I am replacing my earlier concession with an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote.”
At a press conference on Saturday afternoon, Gillum expressed his desire to see the process carried out, despite the fact that it might not change the margin in the race. He also urged his supporters—and those of his opponent—to retain dignity and respect throughout the process. Gillum said he is "prepared to accept any outcome" of the election.
Speaking of the recount Saturday afternoon, Lt. Governor Carlos López-Cantera, a Republican, criticized Broward and Palm Beach county officials for not being able to finish counting votes sooner and seized on reports that Broward County had found an additional 83,000 uncounted votes.
“My concern is that people get their act in order and approach this recount in a manner that will give the voters and the citizens of Florida a little bit of faith in what they’re doing in these offices,” López-Cantera said. “At the very best, this is gross incompetence. At its best.”
Earlier in the week, as news trickled out of Gillum and Nelson gaining ground, Scott led the charge in claiming foul play in the heavily Democratic Broward County, with President Trump later joining in to warn that Democrats were attempting to “steal” the elections.
Four days after the election, the county has turned into a frenzied battleground as its vote counting since Election Day significantly narrowed the Republican leads that initially made Scott and fellow Republican DeSantis so certain of victory.
Republican protesters, far-right conspiracy theorists, and Trump have all suggested something suspicious is afoot.
On Saturday, apparently in reaction to the recount, Trump took to Twitter: “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!” he wrote.
While Scott ordered law enforcement to investigate any alleged electoral fraud at a dramatic press conference on Thursday, election officials called nonsense on his allegations Saturday.
Sarah Revell, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Elections, told the Miami Herald that monitors were on site in Broward County from election day on, and that “no illegal activity” was witnessed.
“Our staff has seen no evidence of criminal activity at this time,” Revell was quoted as saying.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also announced Friday that it had not received any reports of criminal activity at the polls in Broward County, nor had Scott asked for an investigation to be opened into voter fraud in the area, despite his public declaration.
That did little to stop elected officials from stoking controversy over the election recount on Saturday.
Republican U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida’s 1st congressional district riled up right-wing protesters outside of the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Florida on Saturday afternoon. Gaetz stood on the back of a rented budget truck in front of pallets stacked with prop boxes labelled “Brenda Snipe’s Pallets of Ballots.”
The crowd included well-known right-wing operatives Laura Loomer and Ali Alexander, who had spent the day organizing the protest effort. Loomer and Alexander, who have ties to Roger Stone, streamed Gaetz’s remarks live online as he detailed multiple unconfirmed claims of election fraud.
“Lock her up!” protesters responded, speaking of Snipes.
Gaetz went on, raising unsubstantiated claims of illegal votes; “These are non citizens! The Gillum campaign and the Nelson campaign apparently object to the fact that non-citizens shouldn’t be voting in the state of Florida!”
— with additional reporting by Gideon Resnick