“We Will Never Concede to Bigotry”: Florida Organizers Sound the Alarm over Voting Discrepancies

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Days after the midterm elections, Florida’s contests for U.S. Senate and governor appear to be heading for recounts. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said he is prepared for a possible recount, as his margin with Republican opponent Ron DeSantis narrowed to less than half a percentage point Thursday. A recount is triggered in Florida if the winning candidate’s margin is less than half a percentage point. Incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott will likely also head to a recount in the Senate race, with Scott leading by less than a quarter percentage point as of Thursday. Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott is also suing the Democratic election supervisors of Broward and Palm Beach counties, accusing them of trying to steal the election. Andrea Cristina Mercado, executive director of The New Florida Majority, joins us to discuss the group’s grassroots organizing to expand the electorate in Florida. She also details reports of widespread voting problems on Tuesday, including confusion over ballot design and problems with accessing polling sites and navigating Florida’s voter ID law.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we go to Florida, where, days after the midterm elections, the state’s races for Senate and governor appear to be heading for recounts. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said he’s prepared for a possible recount, as his margin with Republican opponent Ron DeSantis narrowed to less than half a percentage point Thursday. Gillum conceded to DeSantis election night after the race was called for his opponent, but the margin has since tightened. A recount is triggered in Florida if the winning candidate’s margin is less than half a percentage point. Incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott will likely also head to a recount in the Senate race, with Scott leading by less than a quarter of a percentage point as of Thursday. That’s .2 percent.

On Thursday evening, Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott sued the Democratic elections supervisors of Broward and Palm Beach counties. He accused them of—quote, “unethical liberals” of trying to steal the election.

GOV. RICK SCOTT: We’ve all seen the incompetence and the irregularities in vote tabulations in Broward and Palm Beach for years. Well, here we go again. I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida. Senator Nelson hired one of Hillary Clinton’s lawyers from D.C., and the first thing he did was tell reporters that he’s here to win the election. He did not say he is here—he did not say that he wants a full and fair election or even an accurate vote count.

AMY GOODMAN: These will be the first statewide recounts since Bush v. Gore in 2000.

For more, we go to Ft. Lauderdale, where we’re joined by Andrea Cristina Mercado, executive director of The New Florida Majority.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Please explain to the country what’s happening in your state, Andrea.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: I’m here in the heart of Broward County, where we are still waiting for every vote to be counted. You know, this was a—we had a race, in the governor’s race, that was historic and significant. Andrew Gillum had an upset victory in the primary. We endorsed him and ran one of the largest field programs, because we know that candidates that run on transformative platforms can energize a new electorate and bring out people who don’t usually come to the polls. And we saw historic turnout: 250,000 people who didn’t vote in 2016 voted in this election. And yet, on election night, as is so often the case in Florida, it was razor-thin margins. And it was pointing towards a DeSantis victory.

And yet, every vote remains to be counted here in Broward County. Many of our votes have not yet been tabulated. And Andrew Gillum is now within what is triggered for an automatic machine recount. And Senator Nelson is headed for a manual recount, a recount that happens by hand when a race is won or lost by less than a quarter of a percentage point. This is, you know, 15,000 votes in a state with over 20 million people. So there’s a lot of people on the edge of their seats that are really hoping that actually the forces for unity and a vision for a Florida where all of us belong will prevail in this election, in some of these key races.

AMY GOODMAN: Florida’s chief legal officer, the secretary of state, Ken Detzner, told county election supervisors to plan for three statewide recounts.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: That’s correct. So we have Andrew Gillum and DeSantis, the governor’s race, is heading to a machine recount. Senator Nelson and Rick Scott is headed to a manual recount. And Nikki Fried, the agriculture commissioner, is now up 3,000 votes as the votes in Broward County continue to be tabulated.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you explain, Andrea, what’s going on in Broward? I mean, we all—those who were born by 2000, with Bush v. Gore, the whole issue of chads and everything else—explain what’s happened on that ballot and how difficult it was to read and why so many people who filled out their choice for governor actually didn’t vote in the Senate race.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Yeah. I mean, it’s very frustrating for all of us here in Broward County. I was in that voting booth with my two daughters and really had to search for where I was going to vote for U.S. Senate. It was on the left-hand side and below many of the other significant statewide races. And so it was a little bit hidden and obscured. The design of the ballot was flawed. And we believe that that’s resulted in, you know, tens of thousands of people not voting in the race for U.S. Senate, while they voted for many other statewide races.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in Little—

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: And it’s very concerning.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in Little Miami—rather, Little Haiti in Miami, the early voting site different than the voting site on the day of the midterms?

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Yeah. I mean, I think the—you know, we’ve seen, for years, the ways that the vote is suppressed. Some of it is done by laws, like the law that we had on the books where people with a criminal record, after they had done their time, were not allowed to participate in our democracy—over 1.4 million Floridians. We just overturned that on Election Day, which is incredibly significant. There are all kinds of other laws, voter ID laws. I spoke to an 86-year-old woman yesterday who had to fill out a provisional ballot because her driver’s license was expired. Imagine that: She’s 86, she doesn’t drive anymore.

And in addition to that, there are attempts to confuse voters. So, in Little Haiti, there was one very prominent site in the Haitian community that was used as an early voting site. And on Election Day, hundreds of seniors were lined up there to cast a historic vote for Andrew Gillum, and yet that location was not actually a voting place on Election Day, and people were told that they had to go elsewhere. And so we were scrambling to find out how do we get seniors and people with limited mobility to the correct voting place.

So, you know, and I think we’re still investigating other ways that the vote may have been suppressed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if—you know, stories have been emerging, and I wouldn’t be more surprised if more stories continue to emerge over the next few days.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, the issue of Amendment 4, this historic amendment that passed overwhelmingly that means 1.4 million Floridians will now be allowed to vote, one of the largest enfranchisement actions in history. You know, young people being able to vote back in the ’70s, going from 21 to 18, and back to women being able to vote in 1920. One-point-four million Floridians could now vote in 2020, who had felonies on their record, were barred from voting. Now they will be able to. What difference would that make today?

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Oh, absolutely. I mean, essentially, Andrew Gillum got within half a percentage point while he was missing 18 percent of the black vote in the state. You know, we all know that criminalization disproportionately impacts African Americans and communities of color. And there is now 1.4 million Floridians who have been disenfranchised, largely people of color, who will be able to vote in the next election. So, I think this has forever changed the political calculus in Florida. And, you know, we truly believe that the forces for social justice and economic justice and racial equity, it’s just a matter of time before we prevail and that we will overcome all the odds and voter suppression and every other dirty trick in the book, and soon secure victory and elect politicians that we believe will really fight for our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: If Andrew Gillum were to win the governorship, he’d be the first black governor of Florida. He seemed as surprised as many other people, Andrea.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: At the narrowing—at the shrinking margins? Or—I mean, I think it’s been a—

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that there could be a recount triggered.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Absolutely. I mean, I think Tuesday night was a—it was a hard night. It was a bitter pill to swallow. But, you know, I think, for us, we know that our movements will never concede to hate. We will never concede to homophobia. We will never concede to bigotry. And we will be here insisting that every vote is counted. There were hundreds of volunteers across the state yesterday making sure that people who had cast provisional ballots had done what they needed to do to make sure that their voice was heard. And we’ll continue to see everyone taking to the streets. On November 20th, we’ll have a statewide day of action for us to stand up for a Florida for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrea Cristina Mercado, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of The New Florida Majority.

When we come back, one of the many firsts in this midterm election: one of two Muslim women congressmember-elects. We’ll be joined by Rashida Tlaib from Detroit. Stay with us.

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