TALLAHASSEE — Two election officials are warning Floridians, the news media and the rest of America that they might not get final results for the presidential contest on election night this year.
“We want to ensure that everything that we produce, everything that we publish is 100% accurate,” said Marion County Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox, president-elect of the Florida Supervisors of Elections Association. “We do not have the opportunity to be wrong.”
Wilcox and Mark Earley, Leon County Supervisor of Elections and vice president of the trade group, held a conference call with reporters Monday about the dangers of reporting incorrect projections or early results based on incomplete vote totals.
“Of course, Florida has close results, so with unofficial [results] there could be a recount triggered,” Earley said. “It’s a long, intensive process.”
Earley noted that the first round of unofficial results from the county election officials aren’t due to the state until noon on Saturday, Nov. 7. Any recounts would have to be done quickly to get official results verified by the Nov. 15 deadline.
One reason results might be later than usual, Wilcox said, was because of the increase in voting by mail this year. Until the August primary, he had gotten vote by mail ballots processed by 7 p.m. on election night. An influx of 1,000 mail ballots dropped off at his office the night of the election, however, delayed the mail vote counting until 7:20 p.m.
Those ballots “take a massive amount of handling,” Wilcox said, “because we’ve got to verify they’ve not voted someplace else; their signature has to match what we have on file; the envelopes have to be opened — so we were running a little bit late in my realm in August.”
Such a snag could be amplified in larger counties dealing with thousands of more mail ballots dropped off on the last day, he added.
It’s crucial to mail in ballots with plenty of time to spare.
“We’ve been pushing voters – don’t wait until the last minute,” Earley said.
In addition, there are voters who cast mail ballots but whose signatures didn’t match the one on file with the election officials. They’ll be contacted and given the chance to “cure” their ballot by verifying their ballot in-person.
Those who vote using provisional ballots, either because they didn’t have proper identification or are voting in the wrong precinct or county, must be reviewed to determine if their votes will count in the official results by the canvassing board made up of the supervisor of elections, a county court judge and the chair of the county commission.
That process takes time, Earley said, and election officials will need patience from the public and the news media as it plays out.
Such understanding could be in short supply, particularly if Florida’s close election is again preventing the country from knowing who won the presidential contest, as happened in 2000.
But since the debacle of 2000 that led to the Bush v. Gore court case ending the Florida recount and settling the election in George W. Bush’s favor, Florida has reformed its election process, removing obsolete voting methods — no more butterfly ballots — and placing automatic thresholds to trigger a recount.
Those laws came into play in 2018 when automatic recounts were triggered for the governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner races. Two counties, Palm Beach and Broward, failed to get ballots counted on election night or the day after, and both failed to get recount results in by state deadlines.
Still, Earley and Wilcox urged the public to beware of misinformation, disinformation and sensationalized newscasts that could blow up a minor issue such as a misfiring vote machine or a misprinted ballot into a statewide or national election fiasco.
Earley said his “worst nightmare,” though, was a lawsuit or series of lawsuits that disrupts the counting process in Florida.
“A lot of times they’re being done for pol leverage as opposed to being done to actually fix a problem with the process,” he said.