The decision affects thousands of voters across Florida and could ultimately impact the outcome of the state's gubernatorial, Senate and agriculture commissioner race, yet again. U.S. District Court judge Mark Walker handed down the order mere hours before the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline for all counties to submit their machine recount results for the three major races still underway.
It's unclear exactly how many ballots across the state were affected by inconsistent signatures, but the undetermined figure has the potential to be high enough that it effectively upsets all three contests. What is known is that in 47 of 67 counties, a total of 3,781 ballots weren't counted because of signature discrepancies. That figure is expected to grow, as the extension allocated by Walker applies to any mail-in or provisional ballots that weren't counted because of signatures, granting voters a two-day period to remedy the problem and have their vote included.
According to the ACLU of Florida, voters must check with their Supervisor of Elections Office to see their ballot's status. The recommendation is to call SOE or stop by a local office to confirm. If a voter's ballot was not counted because of signature inaccuracies, that person must fill out an affidavit and turn it into SOE in person, by fax or via email by Saturday, November 17th at 5 p.m. Voters must provide valid I.D. when submitting the form.
“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,” Walker wrote. “The answer is simple. It does not.”
Both Nelson and Scott had objections to the outcome of the five-hour hearing on Thursday, but for divergent reasons. "We are immediately appealing this baseless decision, and we are confident we will prevail in the Eleventh Circuit," Spokeswoman Lauren Schenone of Scott's campaign released in an official statement.
On the other hand, Nelson walked away from the ruling with a higher likelihood of success in his bid for re-election. Nonetheless, where he didn't succeed was his request in having the signature-match regulation thrown out entirely. Walker also didn't act on the senator's request to have all signature-affected ballots be counted "sight-unseen."
While Broward County completed its machine recount at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday — well ahead of the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline — Palm Beach County is singing a different tune. Lawsuits are underway, pending results of a plea to extend the machine recount deadline.
Susan Bucher, Palm Beach's SOE, said the day before the deadline that she was in "prayer mode" before criticizing the cutoff, "that really reasonably shouldn't be there." The voting district's machines broke down earlier this week, forcing a restart of the recount of more than 170,000 votes.
As it stands, the races are tight, and as the number of ballots uncounted because of signatures is undetermined, this federal extension to remedy votes could swing outcomes either way. Gov. Rick Scott, leads U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson by 12, 514 votes in initial results, while Ron DeSantis leads nominee Andrew Gillum by 33,663 votes. Democrat Nikki Fried sits ahead of Republican Matt Caldwell by 5,326 votes.