TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — If there is one thing that Florida has proven, it’s Election Day doesn’t always bring the end of an election.
Only a couple of years ago, recounts put the results of statewide races in limbo for weeks. Now polls are showing another close Florida contest — this time, for president.
What You Need To Know
- Election Day is November 3
- Mail-in ballots must be received by, not postmarked by, Election Day
- Overseas ballots will be counted up to 10 days after the election
- The canvassing board will meet to certify the results November 17
- The Electoral College vote won’t happen until December 14
A small army of lawyers are preparing for the possibility of a drawn-out fight.
With a razor-thin race and massive mail-in voting in the middle of a pandemic, it has all the ingredients of a Florida-style election — the kind that continues well beyond Election Day.
“I have trust in the process — it's the unknown,” Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said. “What will tomorrow bring?”
That is why even now, days before the polls close, the groundwork is being laid for a busy post-election period — one full of automatic recounts, hand recounts and court fights over disputed ballots and deadlines.
There is no guarantee any of that will come to pass, but in a virtual roundtable this week, election veterans said the possibility is distinct.
Cowles warns that confusion about Florida’s election laws could cause lots of contention.
“People come to Florida with their election knowledge from elsewhere, and they try to apply it to what we're doing,” Cowles said. “And sometimes they believe that's unfair or suppression.”
For example, mail-in ballots are “due” on Election Day, not simply “postmarked” on that day, as other states allow.
That will make Florida’s vote counting quicker, but with all those envelopes to open, it still could take more time than usual.
Another potential issue is signature mismatches. If the signature on a voter’s mail-in ballot doesn’t match the one election officials have on file, it is could be ruled invalid. In 2018, there was a court fight over counting thousands of mismatch ballot in a very close U.S. Senate race.
Voters’ existing expectations for official election results are unrealistic, and a close race in which the margin is within 0.5 percent would trigger a recount.
That’s where the lawyers would come in.
“It will work itself out, and we’ll have a president when it’s over,” Barry Richard, who led the legal team for George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount.
Election Day is November 3, but the election calendar in Florida actually stretches far beyond it.
Overseas ballots will be counted up to 10 days after the election. Those will play into the final resorts being reported November 15.
The state canvassing board will meet to certify those results November 17, and the all-important Electoral College vote won’t happen until December 14.