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Florida Officials Recounting More Than 8 Million Ballots To Settle Close Races

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Florida officials are recounting more than 8 million ballots to settle some very close statewide races, including for U.S. Senate and governor. They're supposed to wrap up in less than 48 hours. There are doubts that two counties can get it done - the Democratic strongholds of Palm Beach and Broward. And this fight has gotten bitter, especially between the Senate candidates, Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott.

NPR's Asma Khalid is covering the story and joins us now from the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First just update us on the status of the recount. Where do things stand right now?

KHALID: Sure. So, Ari, from the outset, I just want to give you a sense of the scene because I think we've been hearing a lot about some really heated partisan rhetoric - you know, people throwing these word bombs. But what's interesting to see here is that it's fairly civil. You've got Republican and Democratic observers. Sometimes they're sitting side-by-side. And everybody seems to be curious about the same questions because the supervisor of elections has not been particularly transparent.

In terms of the actual votes, Broward County got off to a late start. You know, it needed to sort through some 700,000 ballots. And today they finally started counting them. What we've been told is that as of this afternoon, they've counted about 300,000 of those ballots.

SHAPIRO: OK, so that's Broward County where you are. What about Palm Beach County?

KHALID: Well, in Palm Beach, they've also been counting ballots, but their supervisor of elections has said that because their voting machines are older, you can only recount one election at a time. So the people I'm talking to there say there's a real concern that they're not going to be able to meet the deadline of Thursday because they have to count each ballot more than one time. So they're likely to finish recounting the U.S. Senate race but not necessarily the governor's race.

And, you know, when people ask them why, Ari, you know, they will talk about the fact that this year, Palm Beach turnout was near 70 percent, and that's really just kind of an unprecedented turnout in a midterm year.

SHAPIRO: What happens if the counties don't meet the deadline?

KHALID: Well, that is unclear. I will say that we have heard that they would take, then, the unofficial first results. Those were the ones that were reported on Saturday. But what a GOP operative told me is that also this is likely to mean more lawsuits and lawsuits that could drag things out for weeks.

You know, it's also worth remembering that the real battle, especially in the U.S. Senate race, is likely to start on Thursday because that's when things would probably move into a manual recount. And in Broward County, the supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, did tell me that here, they expect to finish things. She does think that they will do this, wrap this all up before the Thursday deadline. And here's what she told reporters today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRENDA SNIPES: We will - and everybody can record this. We will complete the recount. There's never been a deadline that we have missed.

SHAPIRO: Brenda Snipes has gotten a lot of attention lately. She's been widely criticized for her handling of the election. Why is she at the center of all of this?

KHALID: Well, you know, I think, Ari, there are some concerns just about her credibility in doing this job and her competency. I mean, Jeb Bush, who first appointed her to this job in 2003, took a jab at her on Twitter where he said that really she should be removed from office following the recounts. President Trump has also taken a swipe at the supervisor.

And look; you know, even a Democratic operative told me that at times, things here in Broward County do seem sloppy, that you can look at some other big counties, and things seem to operate a little bit more efficiently. And she has admitted that some ballots have been mishandled. A judge this week ruled against her, saying she violated the Public Records Act in her handling of this count. But, Ari, one quick thing is that really she seems to be taking some of this criticism to heart and said she may not stay on. It's maybe time for her to move on.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.