A Mysterious ‘Undervote’ Could End Up Settling the Florida Senate Race

The vote count in Florida’s Senate race keeps getting tighter. Gov. Rick Scott’s lead over the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson, is down to 15,000 votes, and it’s likely to narrow further as provisional and late overseas ballots are counted.

As the initial count concludes, one issue will loom over the result: a substantial undervote in Broward County, the state’s most Democratic county, and the possibility that the ballot design, which might have made it harder to find the Senate choice, will ultimately cost the Democrats a Senate seat.

An undervote is when a voter casts a ballot but doesn’t vote in one of the contests on the ballot. At the moment, there are a lot undervotes in the Senate race in Broward.

If Mr. Scott ultimately prevails by a margin of 10,000 votes or less, the undervotes in Broward County could be what cost Mr. Nelson the race.

Broward County has reported about 25,000 fewer votes cast for Senate than for governor, a difference of about 3.7 percent. That means voters left their Senate choice blank, or the choice was not counted because of a tabulation error like an equipment problem. This is highly unusual, and there’s nothing like this discrepancy elsewhere in the state. Immediately across the county line in Miami-Dade County, about the same number of people voted in the Senate race and the governor’s race.

There are two distinct patterns of undervoting in Broward County.

A particularly large number of undervotes came in the part of Broward County that belongs to the 24th Congressional District, a discrepancy first identified by Matthew Isbell, a Democratic consultant. There, the undervote is about 9 percent. In other parts of that congressional district — in Miami-Dade County —  there’s no significant undervote.

One possibility is that there’s some kind of tabulation error, because the scale of the undervote is so significant. If that’s true, the votes could be recovered in a recount.

If the undervoted ballots were similar to those of other voters in each precinct and were recovered, they would add a net 1,500 votes to Mr. Nelson’s total.

In other parts of Broward County, the undervote was around 3.3 percent. If you again allocated the undervotes to Mr. Scott and Mr. Nelson by precinct, based on how each precinct voted, that would net Mr. Nelson an additional 8,300 votes.

Together, those 8,300 votes and 1,500 votes would mean an estimated additional 9,800 votes for Mr. Nelson.

With the statewide margin at 15,000 and likely to shrink further, we’re not far from being within the margin of Broward’s undervote, meaning that it could be pivotal.

If there was not a tabulation error, and voters truly didn’t vote in the Senate race, the votes wouldn’t be recovered in a recount.

In Broward County, the Senate contest appeared in the lower left section of the first page, under a set of instructions rendered in several languages. This design could explain the undervote if even a small fraction of voters, thinking it was part of the instructions, overlooked the Senate race.

The only other race that appeared in the lower-left hand section of the ballot was the race for Congress. It seems there was a similar undervote in those contests. In Florida’s 22nd and 23rd Districts, the only two contested congressional districts inside Broward, the undervote was just as large as it was in the Senate race. There was virtually no undervote in the congressional contests in the Eighth and 18th Districts, which sit in counties north of Broward.

There’s another possible explanation for why there were so many undervotes in the 24th District. The 24th District House race was uncontested, and Florida is one of the few states where votes aren’t counted in uncontested races. We have not yet acquired an image of the ballot in the 24th District, but it’s possible the Senate race was alone in the lower left-hand corner, making it even easier to miss.

Mr. Scott has filed a lawsuit against Broward County election officials, and they have also come under criticism from President Trump and other Republicans. Broward’s vote count has been particularly slow, and its late vote count has cut into Mr. Scott’s lead. But while the slow vote count has the appearance of helping Democrats, it seems possible that Broward’s ballot will ultimately cost the Democrats a Senate seat.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/09/upshot/florida-senate-race-broward-undercount.html

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