AT PRESS TIME (late Nov. 14): At press time for this edition of The Beacon, the Volusia County Elections Office was nearing the end of the machine recount of 230,719 ballots cast in the Nov. 6 election. Elections officials anticipated the results of the machine recount would be completed in the evening Nov. 14, well before the 3 p.m. Nov. 15 machine-recount deadline set by the state. Once state officials receive all the counties machine-recount results, decisions will be made about which, if any, races need to be manually recounted. So far, only the House District 26 race is going to manual recount. Counties will have three days to complete a manual recount.
At the end of a long day Monday, Nov. 12, a 240-vote discrepancy emerged just as Volusia County elections officials thought they were wrapping up a machine recount of 230,719 votes.
Officials from the Republican Party of Florida and Democratic Party of Florida, candidate Barb Girtman and others were there observing, anxious to learn the results of the machine recount at about midnight.
Two high-speed tabulators that had been humming along since 9 a.m. were quiet.
All of the ballots had been run through the machines and uploaded to USB drives. Election workers who had been there all day working, took the drives into secure rooms to reconcile all the data into one giant list of results.
When the workers reappeared, it quickly became apparent that all was not well.
Onlookers clutched their official Volusia County Elections American-flag stress balls as Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis, Elections System Manager Gary Buchanan and Canvassing Board Member Judge Christopher Kelly compared the recount results with the results from election night.
Solemn and clearly tired, Kelly delivered the verdict at 12:22 a.m. Tuesday: Because of a 240-vote discrepancy, and suspicions about one of the voting machines that had jammed in an odd way while processing New Smyrna Beach early votes, all of the vote-by-mail and early votes — 141,178 ballots countywide — would have to be recounted by machine again.
The Canvassing Board officially adjourned at 12:30 a.m. and headed home for a brief rest before facing what they knew would be another long day Tuesday.
It would be their fifth 15-hour workday in a row.
The second time around, officials are comparing the results of each day of early voting and each series of vote-by-mail every step of the way.
The timeline so far
Friday, Nov. 9: The Elections Office begins a machine recount of three local races: County Council District 1, state House District 26, and an Edgewater City Council race. The Florida Democratic Party’s lawsuit against the Elections Office is dropped when Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis provides a list of provisional ballots. Lewis, who had previously refused to release the list, had feared voters could be identified.
Saturday, Nov. 10: The machine recount of three local races continues until the afternoon, when state election officials order a statewide machine recount of three state races: U.S. senator, governor and agriculture commissioner. The local recounts are halted, and the Volusia County Elections Office starts over with a machine recount of all of Volusia’s 230,719 votes, starting with those cast on Election Day. Throughout the process, officials segregate ballots with overvotes and undervotes that will be used for a manual recount. Election officials work until 2:30 a.m.
Sunday, Nov. 11: Machine recount wraps up for Election Day ballots and begins, and finishes, a machine recount of more than 77,000 vote-by-mail ballots.
Monday, Nov. 12: Early-voting ballots, provisional ballots, and ballots that failed to scan on Election Day are machine-recounted. Officials complete the machine recount at 11:02 p.m. At 11:28, Canvassing Board Member Christopher Kelly tells observers there is a 240-vote discrepancy in the recount total versus the Election Day total, and the early and vote-by-mail ballots will have to be recounted again.
“It doesn’t make sense at this point,” Kelly said.
Tuesday, Nov. 13: At 12:22 a.m., the Canvassing Board decides to rerun all 141,178 early-vote and vote-by-mail ballots. They reconvene at 9 a.m. to begin tabulating over half of the total votes cast in Volusia again, starting with vote-by-mail. The original vote-by-mail counter, Herman, is hauled out of storage in hopes a problem with jamming can be solved by technicians, adding a third machine.
Wednesday, Nov. 14: The machine recounting of vote-by-mail ballots is completed and the recounting of early votes re-restarts. Herman is fixed around 3 p.m. and is put to work tabulating ballots from the third of five early-voting sites. Completion of the machine recount is expected Wednesday evening, just after The Beacon‘s press deadline.
Herman and humans exhausted
Herman, the original high-speed tabulator that scanned all of Volusia County’s 77,662 vote-by-mail ballots, has been down for the count — the recount, anyway. Two other identical machines have done the heavy lifting during the laborious process of recounting the votes, with mixed results.
When recounting early-voting ballots from New Smyrna Beach late Nov. 12, one machine displayed an unusual error message after becoming jammed.
That prompted election officials to restart the count for the New Smyrna Beach early votes.
While the machines do occasionally get jammed, this new kind of jam foretold the discrepancy that emerged even later that night — there were 240 fewer votes in the machine recount of early votes and mailed votes than on election night.
The recount of vote-by-mail and early voting began anew Nov. 13.
The Elections Office staff worked at least 15 hours a day Friday, Nov. 9, through Tuesday, Nov. 13. A conservative estimate is 75-plus hours over a five-day span.
At last, on Wednesday, Nov. 14, it appeared the machine recount would be finished — so the same workers could begin working on a manual recount of 1,849 undervotes and overvotes in the Florida House District 26 race.
In that race, incumbent Rep. Patrick Henry, a Democrat, trailed Republican challenger Elizabeth Fetterhoff by just 59 votes, or roughly a tenth of a percent of the 61,123 votes cast.
Florida counties faced a deadline of 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, to complete machine recounts. They have three days after that to complete manual recounts — which cannot begin until the machine recounts are completed.
The restart means the timeline for tired Volusia County election officials has been compressed.
Officials were hopeful that a technician from Election Systems & Software, the maker of Volusia County’s election equipment and software, would repair the misbehaving machine Tuesday, Nov. 13, bringing the total number of tabulators up to three, and shaving time off of the machine recount.
When The Beacon checked in around 2 p.m. that day, the technician was shaking his head and sighing at the tabulator, which was still jamming.
A different technician arrived Nov. 14. By 3 p.m., Herman was up and running again.
Attempts to get even more high-speed machines from other counties were unsuccessful.
“We tried, but they’re not available — other counties are using them,” Volusia County Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis said.
And, how are the humans holding up?
“Our pets growl at us because they think we’re strangers,” Canvassing Board Member Billie Wheeler said.
The Canvassing Board — Wheeler, Lewis and County Judge Christopher Kelly — is responsible for duplicating ballots that are damaged, making decisions about whether provisional ballots should be counted, and answering questions from the public.
Wheeler and Kelly were appointed by the chair of the County Council and the chief judge, respectively.
The job is unpaid.
“We can see the finish line,” Wheeler told The Beacon Nov. 14.
Like dogs and cats as friends — or donkeys and elephants — long hours in the basement of the Elections Office made for strange bedfellows. By nine o’clock Monday night, Democrats and Republicans were putting their heads together to solve a particularly tricky New York Times Sunday crossword.
When Volusia County Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis fought off tears after learning of a 240-vote discrepancy in the vote totals that would cause the recount to begin again, members of both political parties rushed to tell her how appreciative they were of the office’s diligence.
Partisan politics may reign statewide, but the lower floor of the Volusia County Elections Office is a remarkably peaceful place, as both parties patiently wait for the results.
“Everybody has gotten along,” Lewis said.
Unlike dogs and cats, that just goes to show we are all just people.
Voting lingo to know
Canvassing Board: A three-member board composed of the supervisor of elections, a County Council member, and a county judge. The Canvassing Board is responsible for the final tabulation of votes, and makes decisions, for example, about whether provisional ballots should be counted.
Machine recount: All the paper ballots from early voting, vote-by-mail and precinct voting are fed through two high-speed tabulators at the Elections Office in the Volusia County Historic Courthouse in Downtown DeLand. A machine recount is ordered when there is a margin of less than a half percent between candidates.
Manual recount: During the machine recount, the vote tabulator sets aside ballots that have undervotes or overvotes. For a manual recount, teams of people look at each of these ballots, to try to determine whether a voter’s intention can be determined. For example, if a voter filled in the oval for one candidate, then made a stray mark on the bubble for the other candidate, the machine might record an overvote, while a human could discern the voter’s intention. A manual recount is ordered when the margin of difference is less than a quarter of a percent.
Provisional ballot: If there is a problem at the polling place, such as a voter who has moved and not updated his or her registration, or a signature that doesn’t match what’s on file at the Elections Office, the voter is invited to cast a provisional ballot. The voter is allowed time to follow up with the Elections Office, and these ballots – there were 188 of them countywide in the Nov. 6 election – are considered on a case-by-case basis by the Canvassing Board.
Overvote: The voter marks more than one candidate in a race.
Undervote: The voter fails to – or chooses not to – fill in the oval for either choice in a race.