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Florida officials order hand recount of ballots in tight Senate race

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Florida election officials on Thursday ordered a hand recount of ballots in the tight race between Democratic US Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott.

[TAMPA] Florida election officials on Thursday ordered a hand recount of ballots in the tight race between Democratic US Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott.

Mr Nelson trailed Mr Scott by about 12,600 votes, or 0.15 per cent of the more than 8 million ballots cast following an electronic recount.

Under state law, the Florida Department of State must trigger a manual recount if an electronic recount of ballots finds a margin of victory of less than 0.25 per cent in the race.

Elections officials were expected to inspect by hand any ballots that were designated undervotes or overvotes, cases where the machine that reviewed the ballot concluded that a voter had skipped a contest or marked more than one selection.

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If the voter's intentions are clear on review by a person, the ballot could be counted.

The order came after US District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee, Florida, cleared the way to include ballots from as many as 5,000 people across the state who submitted ballots by mail that were rejected by election officials. A Georgia federal judge issued a similar ruling as that state worked to resolve a close governor's race.

In Florida, the recount of close races and attendant legal disputes over the validity of votes have stirred memories of the 2000 US presidential election, when the US Supreme Court stopped an ongoing recount in the state and sent George W. Bush to the White House.

Initial counts before the recount showed Mr Scott, Florida's outgoing governor, leading in his bid to unseat Mr Nelson. Republican Ron DeSantis led Democrat Andrew Gillum in the governor's race.

The Scott campaign in a statement said its margin of victory had increased moderately as a result of the recount and called on Nelson to concede.

"Last week, Florida voters elected me as their next US Senator and now the ballots have been counted twice," Mr Scott said in a statement, calling on Nelson to end the recount process.

Before the statewide manual recount was announced, Mr Nelson's campaign sued Florida election officials seeking a hand recount of ballots in liberal-leaning Palm Beach County.

Palm Beach County officials said the machines they were using to recount ballots overheated and caused the county to miss the deadline for completing an electronic recount.

Overall control of the US Senate is not at stake in the Florida race. President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans extended their majority in the chamber while Democrats took a majority in the House of Representatives. But both the Senate and governor's races are being closely scrutinised as Florida is traditionally a key swing state in presidential elections. 

REUTERS