For the second time in 18 years, a pivotal election may be slipping away from Democrats in Florida thanks to an unlikely culprit: the design of a ballot.
That possibility now looms over the Senate contest after machine recounts were ordered Saturday in that race, as well as the battle for governor.
If a recount leaves the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Bill Nelson, on the wrong side of the ledger, Democrats will be left to grapple with a major issue in what is supposed to be one of their most reliable vote-producing counties.
Broward County, just north of Miami, is home to nearly 2 million people, making it one of the largest counties in America. For Democrats, it is also a vote-producing behemoth, typically accounting for more than 10 percent of all of the votes they receive statewide. Not surprisingly, based on the ballots counted from Broward so far, Nelson is crushing his Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, 69 percent to 31 percent.
But that’s where the ballot issue comes in. While there have been a lot of votes cast in Broward in the Senate race, there were more cast in the governor’s race. As of Saturday, the gap stood at about 26,000.
This means that on about 26,000 ballots, voters registered their choice in the governor’s race, which pitted Democrat Andrew Gillum against Republican Ron DeSantis, but not for Senate. That adds up to about 3.7 percent of all ballots cast in Broward. To put it mildly, that number is radically higher than anything found in any of Florida’s 66 other counties, where votes cast in the Senate and gubernatorial races have tracked about evenly.
Clearly, something is up in Broward — but what? The Nelson campaign’s attorney, Marc Elias, is suggesting that there is a machine issue that somehow resulted in votes from the Senate race not registering from some ballots. Broward’s election supervisor, Brenda Snipes, meanwhile, is insisting there is no technical issue. If there is one, the recount will presumably catch it.
But the other possibility here is one that will evoke long-suppressed unpleasant memories for Democrats of a certain age: Did the design of Broward’s ballot cause a small but critical chunk of voters to miss the Senate race?
There is some compelling evidence for this theory. A look at the Broward ballot shows that the Senate race occupies a lonely corner, buried in the left column under a lengthy set of instructions. The governor’s race, meanwhile, is perched prominently atop the middle column, with wide spacing between the names of all six candidates who qualified to run. There’s no question where the eye is more easily drawn.