Florida U.S. Senate race triggers hand recount

TAMPA, Fla., Nov 15 (Reuters) - Florida election officials on Thursday ordered a hand recount of ballots in a closely fought U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott.

Nelson trailed Scott by about 12,600 votes, or 0.15 percent 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 percent.

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.

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

The order came after U.S. 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 U.S. presidential election, when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped an ongoing recount in the state and sent George W. Bush to the White House.

State election officials said the machine recount of ballots in the governor's race pitting Republican Ron DeSantis against Democrat Andrew Gillum showed DeSantis with an 0.41 percentage point lead, below the threshold to trigger a manual recount.

Gillum signaled that he had not yet given up.

"A vote denied is justice denied — the State of Florida must count every legally cast vote," Gillum said in a statement after the machine recount concluded. "We plan to do all we can to ensure that every voice is heard in this process."

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Andrew Gillum, Democratic nominee for Florida governor
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Andrew Gillum, Democratic nominee for Florida governor
Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum speaks at a Florida League of Cities Gubernatorial Candidates Forum in Hollywood, Florida, U.S. August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Candidate Andrew Gillum who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Florida governor, speaks to voters on a tour of barbershops in Sarasota, Florida, U.S., July 18, 2018. Picture taken July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Letitia Stein
Candidate Andrew Gillum who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Florida governor, speaks to voters on a tour of barbershops in Sarasota, Florida, U.S., July 18, 2018. Picture taken on July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Letitia Stein
Candidate Andrew Gillum watches a video, which shows his rise from the son of a bus driver, to the mayor of Florida's capital city, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state governor, during a campaign visit to a barbershop in Sarasota, Florida, U.S., July 18, 2018. Picture taken July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Letitia Stein
Candidate Andrew Gillum who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Florida governor, speaks to voters on a tour of barbershops in Sarasota, Florida, U.S., July 18, 2018. Picture taken July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Letitia Stein
Tallahassee, Florida Mayor, Andrew D. Gillum addresses the audience at the Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Tallahassee, Florida Mayor, Andrew D. Gillum addresses the audience at he Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Tallahassee, Florida Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
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The Scott campaign in a statement called on Nelson to concede.

"Last week, Florida voters elected me as their next U.S. Senator and now the ballots have been counted twice," Scott said in a statement.

Overall control of the U.S. 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 scrutinized as Florida is traditionally a key swing state in presidential elections.

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DORAL, FL - MARCH 28: Florida Governor Rick Scott interacts with people at Restaurant El Arepazo 2 as he holds a bill signing ceremony for legislation to prohibit all state agencies from doing business with any entity that benefits the Venezuelan regime on March 28, 2018 in Doral, Florida. Gov. Scott said recently that he will have a big announcement on April 9, with many speculating that he will launch a Senate bid to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for the seat. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks to the media as he visits Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school killed 17 people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 28: Florida Governor Rick Scott arrives at Restaurant El Arepazo 2 to hold a bill signing ceremony for legislation to prohibit all state agencies from doing business with any entity that benefits the Venezuelan regime on March 28, 2018 in Doral, Florida. Gov. Scott said recently that he will have a big announcement on April 9, with many speculating that he will launch a Senate bid to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for the seat. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - MARCH 10: Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks with the media before the Republican presidential debate on the campus of the University of Miami on March 10, 2016 in Coral Gables, Florida. The Republican candidates continue to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Florida's Governor Rick Scott addresses the media as CNN prepares for the Republican Presidential Debate March 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida. / AFP / RHONA WISE (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
TELEMUNDO EVENTS -- Pictured: Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises' Global Headquarters on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida -- (Photo by: Ivan Apfel/Telemundo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TELEMUNDO EVENTS -- Pictured: (l-r) David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast Corporation and Florida Governor Rick Scott arrive at the groundbreaking ceremony for NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises' Global Headquarters on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida -- (Photo by: Ivan Apfel/Telemundo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JULY 13: Florida Governor Rick Scott stands with Crystal Faircloth as he visits the Marian Center which offers services for people with intellectual disabilities on July 13, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Governor held a bill signing ceremony at the center for Senate Bill 642, the Florida Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act as well as took the opportunity to highlight funding for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities included in the 2015-2016 state Budget. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JULY 13: Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks with Sisters, Sister Filomena Mastrangelo (L) Sister Fausta Rondena (C) and Sister Carla Valentini (R) as he visits the Marian Center which offers services for people with intellectual disabilities on July 13, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Governor held a bill signing ceremony at the center for Senate Bill 642, the Florida Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act as well as took the opportunity to highlight funding for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities included in the 2015-2016 state Budget. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JULY 13: Florida Governor Rick Scott as he visits the Marian Center which offers services for people with intellectual disabilities on July 13, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Governor held a bill signing ceremony at the center for Senate Bill 642, the Florida Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act as well as took the opportunity to highlight funding for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities included in the 2015-2016 state Budget. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 07: Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) arrives for a news conference and greeted by Aerospace CEO Pierre Pinsonnautt (L) and Abhishek Wakaskar (C) at Aerospace Precision. Governor Rick Scott take a tour of the facility to highlight job growth in Hollywood on Tuesday July 7, 2015 in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Johnny Louis/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 06: Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) speaks to members of the media after a meeting with Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell May 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. Governor Scott met with Secretary Burwell to discuss his funding request for a Low Income Pool program which will be expire June 30. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
MIRAMAR, FL - JANUARY 23: Florida Governor Rick Scott tours the SeaLand shipping lines new Intra-Americas headquarters on January 23, 2015 in Miramar, Florida. Scott announced that Florida businesses added 11,500 private-sector jobs in December 2014 and since December 2010, Florida has added 728,500 private-sector jobs. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott (C), flanked by family members, greets supporters after his re-election victory in a deadlocked race against Democrat Charlie Crist, during an U.S. midterm elections night party in Bonita Springs, Florida, November 4, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott celebrates his re-election in a deadlocked race against Democrat Charlie Crist during a U.S. midterm elections night party with supporters in Bonita Springs, Florida, November 4, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a ceremony opening new newsroom facilities for the Univision and Fusion television networks in Doral, Florida August 28, 2013. Spanish language behemoth Univision is ramping up its new English cable news network Fusion aimed at younger viewers, hiring hundreds of staffers and building a flashy newsroom as it prepares to enter the crowded field of cable news channels. REUTERS/Joe Skipper (UNITED STATES - Tags: HEADSHOT MEDIA BUSINESS POLITICS)
Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks at a meeting of the Latin Builders Association in Miami, Florida January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Skipper (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
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'LAUGHING STOCK'

Walker grew testy during a series of Thursday hearings about lawsuits over the recounts, voicing frustration about how to handle uneven progress in different counties and also the Florida legislature's response to historic election problems.

"We have been the laughing stock of the world election after election," Walker said. "But we've still chosen not to fix this."

Separately, a federal judge in Georgia ordered state election officials to count some previously rejected ballots in that state's governor's race, where ballots are still being tallied but Republican former Secretary of State Brian Kemp has declared victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

This year's campaigns went down as the most expensive midterm elections in U.S. history, with some $5.25 billion spent on advertising, up 78 percent from the last midterm elections in 2014, according to a Kantar Media analysis released on Thursday. Spending was 20 percent higher than the 2016 presidential election.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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