The results of Florida’s tight Senate race may have been ruined by a poorly designed ballot that caused voters to miss one of the most important races in the United States. That’s right, it’s a hanging chad situation all over again.
The Florida Senate race represented one of the closest margins going into Tuesday’s election night, but by the end of the evening, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) had conceded the race to Republican Rick Scott, believing he was behind by 57,000 votes. A few days of counting later, though, and the margins fell to a mere 15,046 votes. The plot thickened when officials spotted an anomaly: In Broward County, 3.7% of voters left the Senate vote on their ballot blank.
This “undervoting” occurred in Broward at more than three times the rate than it did anywhere else in the state. That behavior doesn’t add up, even when analyzing the voting patterns of Broward County in its own vacuum. According to FiveThirtyEight, 26,060 people in Broward County voted for the gubernatorial race and not the hotly contested Senate race.
OMG. Looking at county-level undervote. Broward stands out for having 3.7% of its ballots left blank for #FLSEN but cast for #FLGOV. No other county comes close, and Palm/Dade had more votes for Senator. Either this is ballot design or machine error. #flapol #sayfie pic.twitter.com/OtyK0oO20g
— Matthew Isbell (@mcimaps) November 8, 2018
Why would anyone skip the Senate race? There are two plausible explanations. One is that auto-counting voting machines made some error and missed this part of the page. But another very likely theory being floated is simply bad ballot design.
Every county across the U.S. is allowed to design their own voting ballot. In the case of Broward County, the ballot begins with a long list of instructions on how to vote. Right below this long column sits the Senate race box. It’s plausible that voters who skimmed the instructions may have skipped right over the Senate race box. Their eyes went straight to the governor’s race instead, which appears clearly on the top of the page, one column over from the instructions.
Take a look for yourself. Would you have missed the Senate vote?
So, what happens now?
Florida Law dictates that any race that’s within a half point margin gets a machine recount (the race currently meets this margin). Only at a quarter-point margin does it get a manual recount. But recounts can do nothing to fill in votes that were never cast. That means if a design error really did disenfranchise Florida, there is probably no getting those lost votes back. That’s bad news for the left, since Broward County typically leans toward the Democrats, and more evidence suggesting that bad design is shaping the outcome of elections.