Supervisors of Elections in Florida’s eight biggest counties, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, have reached an agreement to retain digital ballot images if there is a machine recount in November.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida election law requires supervisors of elections retain the physical ballots for at least 22 months after an election.

  • Not all counties keep digital images of ballots for recount purposes.

  • A group of Democrats filed a lawsuit last month.

“I am pleased by the agreement to retain the ballot images in the event there is another presidential recount in Florida,” John Brakey said. He’s the founder and director of AUDIT Elections USA, a nonprofit group that encouraged Florida officials to pursue the legal action but is not a plaintiff in the case.

“We believe the law is clear that ballot images must be saved just as paper ballots, mail envelopes and other election materials must be saved.”

The other counties included are: Orange, Broward, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties.

Under state law, a machine recount is automatically triggered in an election if the margin is 0.5 percent or less. 

The suit was filed by three state Democratic lawmakers, a Democratic candidate for supervisor of elections in Pinellas County, the Florida Democratic Party and seven other individuals. 

The agreement was announced late Monday night in the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County.  It states that “all ballot images” will be retained by the supervisors of elections for a period of 22 months and will be made available for inspection as any other public records would be.

Digital vote scanners are in use throughout the state as the mechanism by which voters cast ballots and the ballots are tabulated. They function by capturing an electronic image of each vote on each ballot. As ballots are fed through digital scanners, the scanners automatically create an electronic image of each ballot that is automatically stored as an electronic file.

According to AUDIT Elections USA, approximately 32 of the 67 counties in Florida are currently retaining their electronic ballots. 

The supervisors of elections raised objections that requiring the retention of images might pose potential delays in vote tabulation. They also said they would file an appeal after having their request to dismiss the case rejected by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson.

Because that appeal might not have been heard until after the election, the two sides came to an agreement to resolve their issues after November 17, as long as the supervisors of elections agreed to retain the digital images for the presidential election.

“While AUDIT Elections USA does not agree with claims by the eight defendant SOEs that preserving ballot images will interfere with smooth election administration, our ultimate goal is increasing public confidence in our elections,” said Chris Sautter, counsel to AUDIT Elections USA.

Close elections are a way of life in Florida. In 2018, the races for governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner all were subject to automatic machine recounts. There were also approximately 3,000 so-called “lost-votes” in 2018.  Sautter has said those votes would have been counted if the ballot images were preserved, ensuring a more accurate count.

A spokesperson for the Florida Secretary of State’s office said they would issue a response later on Tuesday.