Vote tallies due in Florida's hotly contested elections

Susan Bucher, right, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections and Judge August Bonavita, left, look at provisional ballots in Riviera Beach, Fla., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A possible recount looms in a tight Florida gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and agriculture commission race. (AP Photo/Josh Repogle)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida elections officials turned in unofficial vote tallies Saturday and were waiting to see if the secretary of state will order recounts in the hotly contested races for governor and U.S. Senate.

At stake was the tight and acrimonious U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. The governor's race between former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, might also face a recount.

The recounts reflect a deeply divided electorate in a state that will play a critical role in the 2020 election and will determine whether Nelson will return to Washington for a fourth term or the Republicans will pad their majority in the Senate.

Gillum conceded to DeSantis on Tuesday night, but when the results began to narrow, he said every vote should count. DeSantis has said little about the recount and is instead proceeding as if he won the election, appointing a transition team and preparing to take office in January.

The battle for Nelson's Senate seat has been much more heated, with both sides filing lawsuits and trading verbal jabs. Scott has said Nelson is trying to steal the election, while Nelson is accusing Scott of trying to stop elections officials from counting every ballot. President Donald Trump has weighed in on behalf of Scott, calling the situation "a disgrace."

During a conference call Saturday on behalf of Scott, U.S. Sen Lindsay Graham said the voting problems in Florida "undercuts confidence in the electoral process."

"When it comes to these shenanigans, enough is enough," he said. "We believe Rick Scott won fair and square."

Scott had asked Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections departments in South Florida's Democrat-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties after his lead narrowed in ballot-counting that continued through the week. However, a spokeswoman for the agency said Friday that there were no credible allegations of fraud; therefore, no active investigation.

A large crowd gathered outside the Broward elections office holding signs, waving American flags and chanting "USA USA."

A man with a bullhorn repeatedly yelled for elections supervisor Brenda Snipes to come out.

The governor, meanwhile, filed lawsuits in both counties seeking more information on how their ballots were being tallied. Nelson filed his own federal lawsuit Friday, seeking to postpone the Saturday deadline to submit unofficial election results.

Judges sided with Scott in rulings late Friday ordering election supervisors in the two counties to release information on ballot-counting sought by the governor.

Meanwhile, the Broward Canvassing Board met Friday to review ballots that had been initially deemed ineligible. Lawyers from the campaigns, journalists and citizens crowded into a room to observe the proceedings.

Scott's lead had narrowed by Saturday afternoon to 0.15 percentage points —a lead of less than 13,000 out of nearly 8.2 million ballots cast — below the threshold for a recount. Florida law requires a machine recount when the leading candidate's margin is 0.5 percentage points or less, and a hand recount if it's 0.25 or less.

In the race for governor, DeSantis was leading by 0.41 percentage points.

A third statewide race that could go to a recount — the agriculture commissioner race between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell — is the tightest of all, with Fried holding a 5,326-vote lead, a margin of 0.07 percent.

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AP writer Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale and Tamara Lush contributed to this report.

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