Florida Recount: GOP Wins Senate And Gubernatorial Elections
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It came down to a hand recount of ballots that voting machines couldn't read. Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, has beat out longtime Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, handing Florida's Senate seat to the GOP. In a video statement conceding the race, Nelson's message was hopeful, but he referenced the bitterness of the contest, which included accusations of voter fraud.
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BILL NELSON: We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy, where truth is treated as disposable, where falsehoods abound and that the free press is assaulted as the enemy of the people.
MARTIN: NPR's Tim Mak is in Broward County, Fla., one of the counties that was beset by all these problems. Hey, Tim.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So this took 12 days, lawsuits, a whole lot of lawyers to determine who actually won the Senate race. How close did it end up being?
MAK: So it was close enough to require a manual recount of ballots. Less than 0.25 percent separated them.
MAK: At the beginning of the manual recount process, Scott had a lead of around 12,600 votes. After the recount, Scott's lead narrowed to about 10,000. So tens of millions of dollars were spent on this race. Republican Rick Scott raised nearly $70 million, more than double the Nelson campaign's $27 million. But it all came down to just thousands of votes out of the 8 million total votes cast in the Senate race.
MARTIN: So Bill Nelson was 1 of 10 Senate Democrats running for re-election in a state that Trump won in 2016. So now that Florida has picked up another Republican seat, what are the implications for the Senate?
MAK: You know, it's really interesting. The margin for Republicans is wider now than it was on Election Day. Republicans are now expected to have 52 seats in the Senate compared to 47 for Democrats. There's still one outstanding race. The Mississippi Senate race will go to a runoff later this month. If Republicans win as currently expected, they will have picked up a net of two seats this election cycle. So here's what that means practically. For Republican-led legislation in the Senate to fail in the new year, at least four Republicans would need to defect.
MARTIN: So getting back to the state of Florida, there is new leadership in a couple different directions because there's a new governor-elect, right?
MAK: That's right. Over the weekend, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded in his race to Republican Ron DeSantis. It was a really close race, not quite as close as the Senate race, and certainly appears to be a lot less bitter than the Senate race. The New York Times reported that when President Donald Trump tweeted Democrats were committing voter fraud, DeSantis actually reached out through intermediaries to tell the president to tone it down.
DeSantis' government experience is also more based in D.C. than the state capital of Tallahassee, where he'll now be governor. He never served in state government and didn't have ties with the state's party establishment, which may have been a plus for voters. And his role as governor will have a lasting impact. For example, he'll be in a position of naming new justices to the state Supreme Court. So his influence will be felt for decades.
MARTIN: Right. There were legitimate problems with vote-counting machines and, on top of that, allegations of fraud from Republicans, including President Trump. So from the broader perspective, I mean, should Floridians feel confident in these election results?
MAK: There were some problems in the recount process. Antiquated vote-counting machines overheated, and there was fierce litigation launched by both sides to contest various issues in the process. In one now-famous case, an election supervisor in Florida mixed a dozen rejected ballots with nearly 200 valid votes. And that caused a big mess in Broward County, where I am right now. But at no time was there any indication that there was fraud or that the outcome of the election was wrongly determined due to illegal actions.
MARTIN: NPR's Tim Mak in Broward County, Fla. Thanks, Tim.
MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.