Fact-check: False Florida recount claims

CNN's Jake Tapper, in partnership with FactCheck.org, looks at claims from President Donald Trump around the Florida recount.

Posted: Nov 16, 2018 7:45 PM
Updated: Nov 16, 2018 7:59 PM

Based on the number of lawsuits, cable news coverage and overall drama coming out of Florida at the moment, you might think that the outcomes of the state's Senate and governor's races are balancing on a knife's edge -- with every judge's decision potentially making the difference between winning and losing.

The reality is, well, far from that.

Here's the thing: While the races for governor and, especially, Senate are quite close, the most likely outcome -- by far -- is that the Republican candidates who are leading now will wind up winning.

The difficulty in seeing this forest through the trees of drama is based on this reality: The margins in both races are very small but only as compared to the raw number of votes cast. In terms of the sorts of historical margins that we've seen recounts -- automatic or manual -- flip, these margins are nowhere near small enough to expect that outcome.

Let's go over the numbers first.

In the Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott (R) has 4,097,689 votes as compared to Sen. Bill Nelson's (D) 4,085,086. That's a margin for Scott of 12,603 votes. In the governor's race, former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) has 4,075,445 votes while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has 4,041,762. That's a 33,683-vote lead for DeSantis. Scott's margin amounts to 0.15% of all the votes cast (8,183,652) while DeSantis' edge is 0.41% of the 8,118,074 ballots cast in the governor's race.

Which is a SUPER SMALL margin.

But the vote gaps in the two races -- 12,000 and 33,000 -- are massive when you consider the history of modern recounts.

The most recent hugely high-profile recount happened a decade ago in Minnesota between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken. The state canvassing board showed Coleman with a 206-vote lead. A recount was triggered. Almost two months later -- in January 2009 -- Franken had the lead by 225 votes. After a HUGE amount of legal wrangling, Franken's final margin was finalized at 312 votes. From the beginning to the end of the process, the vote changed by 518 votes in Franken's favor. That was 0.01% of the 2,862,451 votes cast.

Four years earlier, the Washington state governor's race ended in a virtual tie between Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, and Republican Dino Rossi. Rossi was originally named the winner by a margin of 261 votes. A mandated machine recount narrowed Rossi's lead to 42 votes. Gregoire, with the help of a number of national Democrats who raised money for her, funded -- via the state party -- a manual recount. The manual recount ended 58 days after the election, and gave Gregoire a 129-vote final margin over Rossi. The total votes changed by the series of manual and automatic recounts was 390 total votes, or 0.01% of all ballots cast.

The point here is that in the two most recent statewide recounts of a major race -- for governor or Senate -- the starting margin between the two candidates was less than 300 votes. That's miles and miles away from where we are in either the Senate or governor's race in Florida. And, as Harry Enten notes in his terrific piece on why Nelson is going to need a miracle to win, the 2004 Washington governor's race and the 2008 Minnesota Senate race are not anomalous when it comes to recounts. Writes Harry:

"According to a FairVote database of statewide recounts from 2000 to 2015, the average recount moves the margin by 0.02 points. Nelson needs the margin to move by nearly eight times as much. ... In terms of pure votes, it doesn't look any better for Nelson. The average recount from 2000 to 2015 shifted the result by 282 votes. You don't need to be a math wizard to know that 282 is considerably less than 12,000. The maximum change in the margin in any recount from 2000 to 2015 was 1,247 votes."

Those facts -- and the long history of recounts changing only races in which the original count was extremely narrow -- get lost in the coverage of the various suits and countersuits both sides are lobbing at each other. President Donald Trump has added to the confusion by repeatedly insisting via Twitter that there is something nefarious going on in the state's MANDATED recount.

"The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged," tweeted Trump. "An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!"

Now. History is only predictive until it's not. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for one, seems to believe that Nelson will buck history. "When all the votes are counted in Florida, we could be just where we started at the beginning of the 115th Congress, with 48 members, even facing the worst map that we've ever had," the New York Democrat insisted.

Maybe! But a victory by Nelson or Gillum, given the margins they are trailing by, would be hugely out of step with what most recounts -- manual or machine -- produce.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1101185

Reported Deaths: 17557
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1441632231
Lake715041238
Allen65802880
Hamilton50322484
St. Joseph48966643
Elkhart39621543
Vanderburgh34317495
Tippecanoe30336273
Johnson27293465
Hendricks25947380
Porter25171386
Madison20749447
Clark19985277
Vigo18838308
LaPorte16924261
Delaware16480297
Howard16432311
Monroe16415219
Kosciusko13976165
Hancock12899185
Bartholomew12729189
Warrick12051190
Wayne11921267
Floyd11901226
Grant11755240
Morgan10276190
Boone9706121
Noble9094122
Henry9040165
Marshall8932147
Dearborn8866100
Dubois8751139
Shelby8101129
Cass8055127
Lawrence7939184
DeKalb7638107
Jackson752693
Huntington7475110
Gibson7019118
Montgomery6930123
Harrison688298
Knox6855115
Steuben655787
Miami6497109
Whitley644860
Putnam635583
Clinton619877
Wabash6080109
Jasper604992
Jefferson5710103
Ripley550292
Adams533781
Daviess5020117
Scott482880
Wells4733101
White470368
Greene463899
Clay459762
Decatur4548110
Jennings441766
Fayette438494
LaGrange421290
Posey404044
Washington385455
Randolph3834107
Fountain368762
Spencer357347
Fulton356872
Starke349073
Owen347577
Sullivan345754
Orange325571
Jay321950
Rush299632
Carroll290238
Franklin287144
Perry285153
Vermillion281158
Tipton248265
Parke247030
Pike245044
Blackford218744
Pulaski206458
Newton179752
Brown174050
Crawford168129
Benton163917
Martin151719
Switzerland145612
Warren132316
Union118316
Ohio91813
Unassigned0587

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1690217

Reported Deaths: 26587
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1772171827
Cuyahoga1648472640
Hamilton1125391528
Montgomery796451395
Summit705111199
Lucas620241020
Butler56096805
Stark527941171
Lorain41276642
Warren35509412
Mahoning35270771
Lake31622495
Clermont30804363
Delaware26791182
Trumbull26782616
Licking26297336
Medina25419351
Fairfield24256287
Greene24097372
Clark21748387
Portage20807281
Richland20686340
Wood19745246
Allen18638320
Miami17074348
Columbiana16571332
Muskingum16483206
Wayne15482306
Tuscarawas14158360
Marion13116194
Erie12479198
Ashtabula12417232
Scioto12288184
Pickaway12114153
Ross11526225
Hancock11321173
Geauga10726175
Lawrence10531172
Belmont10304234
Huron9633158
Jefferson9504227
Union944075
Sandusky9106166
Seneca8752157
Knox8663170
Washington8632158
Athens828996
Darke8288180
Ashland7873149
Auglaize7794117
Shelby7369133
Defiance7243115
Crawford7129150
Brown7072115
Fulton7058112
Logan6899108
Guernsey684284
Mercer683998
Highland6659119
Madison643889
Clinton6422106
Williams635899
Preble6194140
Putnam6126120
Jackson574096
Champaign570687
Perry561179
Coshocton5576104
Ottawa555499
Morrow509364
Fayette485370
Hardin480699
Gallia465478
Pike460176
Van Wert458993
Adams4531109
Henry426978
Hocking403093
Holmes3947140
Wyandot369373
Carroll354478
Paulding320551
Meigs303459
Monroe233661
Noble218047
Morgan212138
Harrison206953
Vinton184337
Unassigned06
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