Judge extends recount deadline for Florida provisional, mail-in ballots

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Broward County election workers check early voting ballots during a machine recount for both the gubernatorial and Senate races in Lauderhill, Fla. Gary Rothstein/UPI photo

LAUDERHILL, Fla. (UPI) — Thousands of provisional and mail-in ballots in Florida that were initially set aside now have more time to join the recount, a judge ruled early Thursday.

Voters who cast the provisional or mail-in ballots, but were rejected because of mismatched signatures, now have until Saturday to verify their ballot, Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee ruled.

“This should give sufficient time, within the state’s and counties’ current administrative constraints, for Florida’s voters to ensure their votes will be counted,” Walker wrote in his decision.

The decision affects about 4,000 ballots in 45 counties and an unknown number in the other 22.

“Let this court be clear: it is NOT ordering county canvassing boards to count every mismatched vote, sight unseen,” the ruling states. “Rather, the county supervisors of elections are directed to allow those voters who should have had an opportunity to cure their ballots in the first place to cure their vote-by-mail and provisional ballots now.”

In his ruling, Walker said the state’s process for verifying mismatched signatures had been applied incorrectly, making it difficult for voters to make changes before the original Nov. 5 deadline.

The state had argued extending any deadline to Saturday would erode faith in the election, but Walker disagreed.

“Any potential hardship imposed by providing an actual opportunity to challenge the determination that a signature does not match, and thus, a vote does not count, is outweighed by the risk of unconstitutionally depriving eligible voters of their right to vote and have that vote counted,” Walker wrote.

Scott’s campaign is expected to appeal the decision.

The ruling could be a deciding factor for the Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. At last count, Scott led by about 13,000 votes, or 0.14 percentage points, down from about 50,000 on election night.

Close races for governor and agriculture commissioner are also being reviewed. Republican Ron DeSantis holds about a 34,000-vote margin over Democrat Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial contest.

This issue is separate from the machine recount being done in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Broward officials said they would finish their recount by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline. Palm Beach officials have had problems with overheating equipment and may not meet the deadline.

Palm Beach election officials are working in a giant warehouse with no windows, one bathroom and a vending machine during the recount.

“We are doing the best we can,” Susan Bucher, elections supervisor, told the Palm Beach Post. Asked if she could finish by the deadline, Bucher said, “I’m in prayer mode.”

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