Thousands of provisional ballots could flip Florida races now too close to call

TALLAHASSEE — As several major Florida races face likely recounts, local election supervisors are working to verify thousands of votes that once again could flip high-profile contests that are too close to call.

Those provisional ballots, which can include absentee ballots without a signature or ballots cast in person by a voter whose eligibility is questioned, will be added Saturday to the first unofficial election results uploaded to the state.

That could mean 7,000 to 10,000 more votes added to the mix if history is any indication, according to election results from 2014 and 2016.

In 2014, for example, 7,199 provisional ballots were counted statewide. In 2016, there were 10,998, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. This midterm election’s turnout of 62 percent, or more than 8.1 million ballots cast, fell between those two elections.

Those additional votes could make a big difference in three close statewide races that could face a runoff — the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott; the governor’s race with Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum; and the state agriculture commissioner race between Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nikki Fried.

As of Thursday — two days after Election Day — six Florida races were heading toward recounts, an unprecedented number in a state where races sometimes are won by thin margins.

Under state law, a machine recount is automatic if the winning candidate’s margin is less than 0.5 percentage point, and a hand recount is required if the margin drops below 0.25 percent.

In addition to the statewide races, two state House races and a state Senate seat are expected to fall under the recount threshold. The Senate and agriculture commissioner races might qualify for hand recounts if their current margins hold.

Although there’s an unknown number of provisional ballots in the state’s 67 counties that have yet to be tallied, the total count likely will affect races.  

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