Florida midterms: Judge gives voters two more days to correct rejected ballots amid recounts

Mythili Sampathkumar
Florida elections staff load ballots into machines as the statewide vote recount is being conducted to determine the races for governor, Senate, and agriculture commissioner: Joe Skipper/Getty Images

A judge in Florida has given voters whose mail-in and provisional ballots were disqualified over mismatched signature issues two more days to fix the problem.

Roughly 5,000 ballots were initially rejected by county election board officials and they could play a crucial role in the Senate race between Republican Governor Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson. It could also affect the race for governor between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis.

"The precise issue in this case is whether Florida's law that allows county election officials to reject vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for mismatched signatures€” with no standards, an illusory process to cure, and no process to challenge the rejection, passes constitutional muster. The answer is simple. It does not,” wrote US District Judge Mark Walker.

Voters have been given until 5pm on Saturday to rectify any issues and have their voice heard.

State law requires a machine recount when candidates are separated by less than 0.5 per cent and a recount by hand if that difference is less than 0.25 per cent.

While Marc Elias, lawyer for Mr Nelson, celebrated the decision which came in response to a lawsuit Mr Nelson’s campaign has filed against the state which alleged its process for validating vote-by-mail ballots relied too heavily on the ”untrained opinions” of poll workers to match signatures on such ballots - the fight is not over.

State election officials completed an electronic recount of ballots, and it showed Mr Scott with a narrow margin of victory over the three-term incumbent. The Florida Secretary of State's office did not immediately release updated election results after the recount.

Mr Elias tweeted: "We have sued Palm Beach County and the Florida Sec of State to require a hand count of all ballots in the county due to systematic machine failure during the machine recount".

Per state law, the hand count can take place after the machine recount and will be focused on ballots with “overvotes”, when voters selected more than the maximum number of candidates or options in a particular category, and “undervotes”, when voters have chosen less than the required number of candidates or options in that ballot section.

Mr DeSantis holds a 0.41 per cent, or approximately 34,000 vote, lead over Mr Gillum, who is attempting to become the state’s first African American governor.

Both races were originally called for the Republicans but as a result of the recount, Mr Gillum withdrew his original concession.