Democrats hope a manual recount will overturn the results of Florida’s Senate election and pave the wave for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to keep his Senate seat.
Appearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer projected confidence about Nelson’s chances.
“Bill Nelson is — is strong as could be,” Schumer said. “He believes, I believe, he’s won a majority of the votes, and as long as they’re counted, he will continue being senator from Florida.”
History says this is very unlikely and Republican Gov. Rick Scott will maintain his lead over Nelson. Indeed, there doesn’t seem to be a precedent for the type of change Nelson needs to overtake Scott.
Scott holds a little more than a 12,000 vote lead over Nelson. That amounts to an advantage of about 0.15 percentage points, which is well within the 0.25 point margin needed for a manual recount required by Florida law. This margin may seem small, but for recount purposes, it is actually quite large.
According to a FairVote database of statewide recounts from 2000 to 2015, the average recount moves the margin by 0.02 points. Nelson needs the margin to move by nearly eight times as much.
The recount with the largest shift was the Vermont Auditor of Accounts race in 2006. The margin shifted in that by 0.11 points, which is still less than what Nelson needs.
In terms of pure votes, it doesn’t look any better for Nelson. The average recount from 2000 to 2015 shifted the result by 282 votes. You don’t need to be a math wizard to know that 282 is considerably less than 12,000. The maximum change in the margin in any recount from 2000 to 2015 was 1,247 votes. That is far less than the change in the margin Nelson needs to overtake Scott.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this 1,247 margin shift occurred in Florida in 2000. Democrat Al Gore was ultimately unsuccessful in that recount effort. Part of the reason he may have been unsuccessful was that the US Supreme Court effectively shut down a manual recount before it could be completed.
Even if said recount had been completed and under the most favorable standard to Gore, the margin would have only have shifted by about 2,000 votes. In terms of percentage points, it would have been a shift of around 0.05 points. Again, Nelson’s hill is considerably greater than that.
Very few recounts actually turn losers into winners. Just 3 of the 27 elections (11%) examined by FairVote ended up with a different winner at the end of the recount versus the start of it.
All three of these recounts support the idea that Nelson has a tough row to hoe. One was the aforementioned Vermont Auditor of Accounts election in 2006. The other two are considerably better known.
The 2004 Washington gubernatorial election started with Republican Dino Rossi leading Democrat Christine Gregoire by 261 votes or 0.01 points. After a machine recount, Rossi’s lead dropped to 42 votes or 0.002 points. A manual recount gave Gregorie the win by 129 votes or 0.005 points. All told, the margin shifted by 390 votes or a little less than 0.015 points. In terms of percentage points, Nelson would need a shift of 10 times that to emerge victorious in Florida.
Nelson shouldn’t be anymore encouraged by Minnesota’s 2008 Senate recount. Republican Norm Coleman headed into a manual recount up by 215 votes or a little less than 0.01 points on Democrat Al Franken. Franken ended up winning the recount by 225 votes or a little less than 0.01 points. That’s a change of only 440 votes or less than 0.02 points. Like in the Washington example, Nelson would need a much bigger change in Florida to pull out ahead.
Of course, recounts are tricky things. The sample size isn’t so great as to say Nelson has no chance. Maybe something truly funky happened in Florida.
History, though, is highly suggestive of the next senator from Florida being a Republican.