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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Florida recount evokes memories of America's 2000 election meltdown

Republicans angered as officials say results in several states will take days to finalise

Voters cast their ballots in the 2018 mid-term election at precinct number 317 in Hialeah, Florida, USA. EPA
Voters cast their ballots in the 2018 mid-term election at precinct number 317 in Hialeah, Florida, USA. EPA

America faces up to a week of uncertainty with the announcement of vote recounts that could upend the initially projected outcomes of Senate and governor races in Florida as well as two other southern states in congressional elections.

It became clear on Saturday that hundreds of thousands of ballots had not been counted and that the results in Florida were too close to call.

President Donald Trump, without citing any evidence, said attempts were being made “to steal” the Senate seat and governorship after Republican leads shrunk following the latest counting of mailed ballots from Broward County, an area that historically has leaned toward Democrats.

The close Florida race revived memories of the state's pivotal role in the 2000 presidential election where Al Gore conceded the presidency to George W. Bush after a month-long recount that favoured the latter by only 537 votes out of almost six million cast.

The shrinking, to 0.15 per cent, of Republican Senate candidate for Florida Rick Scott's advantage over Democrat Bill Nelson forced a vote machine recount to begin on Saturday, a step required under state law when a lead falls to less than 0.5 per cent. That process may take until Thursday, officials said. Legal challenges could further delay a result. A full manual recount will be ordered if the margin falls within 0.25 per cent.

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The national political focus on Florida also grew stronger with the decision of the state's Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum to rescind his initial concession to Republican opponent Ron DiSantos, an acolyte of Mr Trump. "I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every single vote," Mr Gillum said.

Mr DeSantis, whose lead has fallen to 0.4 per cent maintained that the results were "clear and unambiguous, in his favour".

"It is important that everyone involved in the election process strictly adhere to the rule of law which is the foundation for our nation," he added.

President Trump had earlier tweeted that there was "a lot of dishonesty" over contested votes.

It is not only in Florida that results from Tuesday's elections remain unclear.

In Arizona, the Democratic candidate for Senate Kyrsten Sinema has taken a near 1 per cent lead on her Republican opponent on account of late counted ballots in the state's largest county, officials said, reversing a similar margin since Tuesday's initial count.

The seat was in Republican hands prior to the election and Arizona is normally considered safe Republican territory. Ms Sinema's surge has been attributed to her strong support in urban areas, a trend mirrored by Democratic candidates across the country.

Republicans polled better outside the city and the campaign of Ms Sinema's rival Martha McSally late on Saturday claimed that the latest returns would favour her and draw the race ever tighter.

“Today our vote total grew at a greater rate than expected, and we expanded our vote margins in rural areas counting mail-in ballots dropped off on election day,” said a statement from Ms McSally's campaign chief.

“The latest release provides compelling evidence that the remaining uncounted ballots are favourable to Martha. And we will continue our effort to make sure all lawful ballots are counted.”

It may take until Saturday for an estimated 450,000 outstanding ballots – including those from the city of Phoenix - to be added to the total.

The southern state of Georgia is also embroiled in a tight battle, with the Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams insisting that every ballot be counted. Ms Abrams did not concede on Tuesday night despite forecasts that she had lost narrowly to Republican candidate Brian Kemp.

Mr Trump insisted on Friday that Mr Kemp was the victor. “[Kemp] ran a great race in Georgia – he won,” the president tweeted. “It is time to move on.”

Although Mr Kemp declared victory on Wednesday night there had been multiple reports in Georgia of long lines at polling stations, missing or malfunctioning balloting machines and a lack of ballots at voting stations in some areas.

The run up to voting had already been clouded in controversy and allegations of voter suppression. Mr Kemp, as Georgia's secretary of state before and during the election, was effectively responsible for poll administration and was accused by voting rights activists of improper influence. He denies the allegations but only resigned from his post on Thursday.