Bringing back memories of the 2000 election recount in Florida that lasted 37 days, the state orders recounts in races for governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner.

Florida ‒ forever the land of hanging chads, marred by the stain of electoral incompetence ‒ found itself Saturday embroiled in a recount lollapalooza that recalled the presidential limbo of 18 years ago that made the state a national joke.

Not only were the highest profile races, for U.S. Senate and governor, too close to call, but so were those for state agriculture commissioner, a state senate race and two state house races.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered mechanical recounts in all of them, with results due by next Thursday. If the recounts find any of those races within .25 percent, then a hand recount will follow.

>>RELATED: Palm Beach County waiting to start recounting

Palm Beach County election officials began their recount at 5 p.m. Saturday at the tabulation center in Riviera Beach. But Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said she didn't think they would be able to meet the Nov. 15 deadline, even with the county bringing extra workers to help with the counting.

Broward County said it will begin its recount 7 a.m. Sunday, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The results submitted to the state Saturday from all 67 counties showed significant Democratic gains since Tuesday’s unofficial tallies, especially in the three most high-profile races: U.S. Senate, governor and agricultural commissioner. But that still left a significant gap to be made up in any recount.

Nonetheless, a dark cloud again hovers over the Sunshine State’s political landscape.

>>RELATED: Broward County supervisor of elections said it's important to 'separate fact from fiction'

Former Gov. Rick Scott’s lead over incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator Bill Nelson dwindled to 12,562 in the final count. As of Saturday, Scott led Nelson 50.07 to 49.9 percent,  which is well within the margin for a machine recount, half of 1 percent.

 Democrats see gains in new vote totals

Former U.S. Rep and Republican Rick DeSantis also saw his margin for victory narrow to 33,684 votes against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat. As of Saturday, DeSantis led Gillum 49.59 to 49.18 percent, also within the range of half of one percent for a machine recount.

Meanwhile, Democrat Nikki Fried seemed to be the candidate to flip the script from Tuesday night with the final vote total. After trailing Republican Matt Caldwell after Tuesday's vote, she now leads him by a mere 5,326 votes and could be headed for a hand recount. After the ballots are fed back through machines to count them electronically, if the percentage difference falls under a quarter of one percent, a manual recount is ordered.

In House District 89, which encompasses the city of Boca Raton to Palm Beach Shores, a recount was ordered in race between Republican Mike Caruso and Democrat Jim Bonfiglio. Caruso led as of Saturday’s total by 37 votes.

>>RELATED: President Donald Trump is in France but he has Florida recounting on his mind

Other recounts ordered were for a state senate race for District 18 in Hillsborough County, and House District 26 in Volusia County.

Even before Saturday, Republicans like Scott were claiming fraud. A protest by Republicans even erupted in front of the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office on Friday ‒ again a recall to the protests that marred the recount in 2000 between presidential contenders George W. Bush and Al Gore that ended up decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

And like a migraine, Florida’s bad reputation from the 2000 recount resurrected itself throughout the nation. The New York Times spoke about “Deja vu in Florida," and referring to the “election that must not be named” that scarred Florida’s collective psyche only to come back to haunt it this weekend.

Andrew Weinstein, the national co-chair for the Democratic Lawyers Council, summed it up on Twitter: “Buckle up.”

 

The 2000 election set the tone for recount madness

If past is prologue, the 2000 elections found the Democrats and Republicans fighting in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion over the recount as Florida's electoral votes held the presidential vote in abeyance. The U.S. Supreme Court put an end to the Florida recount and Republican Bush ascended to the White House by a mere 537 votes.

Gillum has hired attorney Barry Richard, who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 recount lawsuits. Gov. Scott already successfully sued Bucher last week for refusing to allow party and campaign representatives to observe ballot counting.

Gillum, whose campaign conceded the race Tuesday night but has since refused to give up, tweeted Saturday: "I am replacing my earlier concession with an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote."

Palm Beach County was at the epicenter of the 2000 recount with its infamous confusing butterfly ballot that found Democrats voting Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. Theresa LePore, the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections during the recount, told The Palm Beach Post a decade later she still got people walking up to her and saying, "I hope you're happy with yourself."

Trump, Scott and even agriculture commissioner Matt Caldwell, all Republicans, tweeted about the election Friday. But Republicans can take solace in the fact that the chance of turning these races with a recount is slim.

According to fairvote.org, 27 out of 4,687 general elections between 2000 and 2015 ended up with recounts. Of those 27 recounts, only three changed the outcome. Arguably the most significant recount occurred in Minnesota in the 2008 U.S. Senate race when former comedian and Democrat Al Franken reversed a 206 deficit to a 312 victory over the incumbent Republican Norm Coleman.

 

Trailing candidates still hoping for a reverse

Nelson wasn't giving up hope. "We believe when every legal ballot is counted we'll win this election," the senator said Saturday in a statement.

Scott tweeted Saturday afternoon that he had spoken to Fox News pundit Sean Hannity about “how we won’t let liberal activists from all over the country come to Florida and steal this election.”

And Trump may have been in France on Saturday but he had Florida on his mind, tweeting: “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”

Chris Hartline, Scott's campaign manager, said the average recount changed the outcome by a just a few hundred votes. "It's time for Senator Nelson to accept reality and spare the state of Florida the time, expense and discord of a recount."

Attorney David Tucker, a Democrat from Miami-Dade County who also volunteered as a poll watcher during early voting and Election Day, said, "the recounts for me insure legitimacy of the election. I do hope the Senate and governor races flip."

Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political professor, said there are 20,000 overseas ballots that are outstanding. Those ballots must be postmarked by Election Day but have until Nov. 16 to arrive and tend to be from Democratic-leaning voters, he said.

“My attitude is let’s wait until all the ballots are in until we start recounting,” Smith said. “Tough to recount when you haven’t even counted.”

The machine recounts, he said, could catch ballots that failed to tabulate for technical reasons. Also, voters whose vote was discarded ‒ such as former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Palm Beach Gardens ‒ because of a perceived signature discrepancy, have until 5 p.m. Monday to “cure” their vote to make it count.

 “There’s a lot of balls still up in the air,” he said.

The only certainly may be that Florida once again will be in the national spotlight and it won't be pretty.

Palm Beach Post reporter Chelsea Todaro contributed to this report.

 

jpacenti@pbpost.com

@jpacenti