Florida recount state of play: Postgame edition

Posted at 5:12 AM, Nov 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-19 07:22:08-05

Thirteen days after the election, and the recount in Florida has come to an end.

After the results came in on Election Day, a recount was triggered in three races with razor-thin margins. Gov. Rick Scott came out victorious in the race for US Senate. Former Rep. Ron DeSantis will be Florida’s next governor, and Nikki Fried will be the next agriculture commissioner.

It is finally over

The 2018 Florida recount drama, a story told against the backdrop of the 2000 presidential recount, turned out to be like most sequels — a story with a lot of hype that ultimately ended not with a bang, but a faint whimper.

In the race for governor and US Senate, the ultimate results that we saw on election night ending up being the same results we saw after two exhaustive recounts and several expensive and intense lawsuits. With each passing day, Sen. Bill Nelson’s opportunity to flip the results dwindled. The apparent end of his political career came with a simple phone call to his successor and a pretaped video statement. Neither the call nor the statement were a surprise and they came long after everyone, except seemingly his high-priced election lawyers, knew the outcome of the race.

How much damage was done?

The true story of this election may have very little to do with the politicians who won or lost. It may have much more to do with the damage this process did to the democratic system.

As the recount played out, Republicans at the highest level went to great lengths to suggest that fraudulent votes were being cast or added to the vote total. The most absurd claim of all was leveled by the President of the United States who suggested that Democrats in Florida were changing outfits in cars so that they could vote multiple times.

While there are plenty of examples of elections supervisors doing a less than admirable job of counting the votes efficiently — and there are certainly some questions that need to be answered by Florida Democratic Party leaders about how they conducted their vote-counting process — none of that had any impact on who won the election.

On the other end of things, Democrats consistently suggested that Republicans were using their positions of power to willfully set aside legally cast votes to win the election, a theory that was the backbone of their multiple legal challenges. Marc Elias, the lead Democratic lawyer, suggested that perhaps “many thousands” of constitutionally legal votes were being tossed out, but a federal judge, who is no fan of Scott, consistently ruled against Elias’ legal arguments.

At the end of this back and forth, there are a significant number of Republicans who truly believe that fraudulent votes were cast, and a significant number of Democrats who believe that lawfully cast votes were tossed aside. There is simply no evidence to support either claim. The democratic process works based on a peaceful transition of power that is based on a faith in our voting system. It worked in Florida — but not without serious, largely baseless, attacks against its foundation.

Rick Scott is a force to be reckoned with

It may be time to give Scott, the politician, the recognition he deserves.

When he broke onto the political scene as an unknown multimillionaire willing to invest significant sums of his own personal fortune, even Republicans were skeptical of his first run for governor in 2010. When I met him for the first time during that campaign, he made sure I knew that the Republican Governor’s Association did not initially support his candidacy.

Close to a decade after that initial rejection from the RGA, Scott has won three races in the largest competitive state in America. Along the way, he has beaten major Democratic stars despite being the underdog in every single race. Scott does not have natural political skills, but what he does have is a relentless work ethic and millions of dollars. National Democrats spent roughly $50 million to protect Nelson’s seat — money that could’ve easily gone to winnable races in other states. Scott’s personal bank account meant that national Republicans did not have to spend a dime. Not only is Rick Scott going to be a US Senator, but simply entering the race went a long way to helping Republicans keep the majority in the Senate in 2018.

2020 impact

The night before the election, I had a lengthy background call with a prominent Florida Democratic leader who was very optimistic about the party’s chances but did say what “keeps me up at night” was the possibility they could lose, and that a loss could lead national Democrats to wonder if Florida should be written off as a swing state.

Florida is no easy investment. It costs millions to shower the state with ads and the human capital necessary to win elections. Even though it is most certainly a 50-50 state, Democrats can win the presidency without Florida. If they keep losing there, is it worth it to keep spending millions that could be spent somewhere else?

Chances are the answer is yes, for a couple of reasons.

First, Florida voters passed a measure that allows felons who have served their time the opportunity to get their voting rights back. That introduces a significant pool of voters that have never been in play. Second, while the change is slow, the demographics in Florida are changing. The state is getting younger and more diverse. Democrats expected that to make the difference in 2018. They didn’t quite get there, but maybe 2020 is the year they push over the top.