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Florida orders vote recounts in governor and Senate races

Saul Martinez, Getty Images/AFP | Protesters demonstrate outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office on November 9, 2018 in Lauderhill, Florida.

Florida authorities on Saturday ordered a statewide recount in the contentious races for US Senate and governor, amid tit-for-tat accusations of fraud from the candidates -- plunging the state once again into election uncertainty.

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Eighteen years after the Sunshine State found itself at the heart of a battle for the US presidency, it was once again in the spotlight after Tuesday's vote, which left the contests for statewide offices undecided.

Florida's 67 counties had been given until midday (1700 GMT) on Saturday to submit unofficial totals.

State law triggers a machine recount if the difference between candidates in a race is within 0.5 percent. Florida's secretary of state Ken Detzner issued the official order for the recounts after the deadline.

After the cut-off, the Senate race between outgoing Republican governor Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson was almost neck-and-neck, with Scott leading by only 12,562 votes out of nearly 8.2 million cast -- a margin of just 0.15 percent.

In the governor's race, the latest unofficial results on the Florida division of elections website show Republican Ron DeSantis, who was backed by President Donald Trump, leading Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum by just 33,684 votes out of more than 8.2 million cast, or a margin of 0.41 percent.

Andrew Gillum withdrew his concession, saying at a news conference, “Let me say clearly: I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every vote”.

Both the senate and the gubernatorial race went to a machine recount.

In a statement, Detzner said the results of the recount would be due on November 15 at 3:00 pm (2000 GMT).

Trump, who is in France for World War I commemoration ceremonies, implicitly accused the Democratic candidates of electoral fraud. "Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!" he tweeted. There is no evidence for his claims.

Lawsuits

With Florida's developments raising partisan tensions to fresh highs, Trump on Friday alleged a major corruption scandal was brewing.

"Bad things are going on in Broward Country, really bad things," Trump told reporters, referring to a Democrat-heavy county where officials were slowly counting votes including absentee and provisional ballots.

Scott filed lawsuits against Broward and Palm Beach counties alleging fraud after his lead narrowed.

On Saturday, he urged Florida's sheriffs to "watch for any violations during the recount process as outlined in Florida law."

Meanwhile, Nelson -- accusing Scott of trying to suppress votes -- fired back with a lawsuit of his own to block steps that would reject thousands of mail-in ballots.

The recount is reminiscent of the dramatic recounts that occurred in parts of Florida after the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Those recounts were halted by the US Supreme Court, and Bush defeated Gore by 537 votes in Florida to win the presidency. Broward County was at the heart of that controversy as well.

Most US political races have already been settled. But Florida is not alone.

In neighboring Georgia, the Democratic candidate for governor initiated legal action to ensure all votes were counted in her contest.

In Arizona, there is still no official result in a fierce US Senate battle that has Democrat Kyrsten Sinema leading Republican Martha McSally by a slim margin.

The ballot chaos raises fresh questions about why the world's most powerful democracy is incapable of producing swift and accurate election results across all 50 states.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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