Heading into the recounts, Republicans Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott lead the two big Florida races for governor and U.S. Senate by counts of 33,669 and 12,536, respectively. So what are the chances that the recount will reverse the outcomes? According to the 26 elections that have experienced a recount in recent history, almost zero. In fact, the average number of total votes that actually changed from recounts of similar elections was just 311 votes.
As votes trickled in from Democrat strongholds Broward County and Palm Beach County, the vote gap between DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum fell under 0.5%, automatically triggering a machine recount. The margin of Scott’s victory over incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson fell below 0.25%, requiring a hand-recount. A third recount race, for agricultural commissioner, is led by Democrat Nikki Fried over Republican Matt Caldwell by about 5,300 votes.
With all the national attention on the two high-profile races, the Miami Herald looked back at previous recount elections in recent history and spoke to some experts to see what the odds of reversal might be. The outlet found some sobering numbers for Democrats. The declarations of victory by Scott and DeSantis and Fried, the Herald concludes, “may not be premature.”
The only race with a legitimate shot of a changed outcome would benefit Republicans: Caldwell has an outside chance due to “the thousands of Republican-leaning overseas votes that have yet to be counted.” The other two would be, well, a Democratic “miracle.”
Gillum’s odds are astronomical, and Nelson’s, while obviously a little better, would still defy all outcomes of similar recounts by a massive margin. In fact, “a recount that reverses an initial margin of more than a few hundred votes would be unprecedented in the recent history of American elections,” the Herald underscores.
Citing the nonpartisan group FairVote, the outlet notes that between 2000 and 2016, out of the 4,687 statewide elections only 26 went to a recount — and the outcomes of only three of those 26 reversed. “The 2004 Washington governor’s race, the 2006 Vermont state auditor’s race and the 2008 Minnesota U.S. Senate race. The average swing in those three elections after the recounts? About 311 votes.”
The only chance that Nelson has is if there was some sort of systematic vote-counting error that impacted tens of thousands of votes.
Nelson’s lawyer, Marc Elias, says that’s exactly what he believes happened. In Broward County, about 25,000 ballots contained votes for the gubernatorial race but not for the Senate race. Elias believes that is due to some kind of tabulation error that will ultimately push Nelson to victory.
But even if Elias’ theory is correct, analysts say it would still be highly unlikely that enough of those votes would go his way. If the 69% Nelson received by average in Broward were to hold true, he’d still fall short by about 4,800 votes.
However, University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry Burden has another theory that Nelson’s camp won’t like: The reason people voted on the gubernatorial race and not the Senate race might be because Broward poorly designed the ballots. The Senate race was listed in the bottom left corner of the ballot, and people might’ve just failed to see it. Oops.