Then and now: Florida elections official compares 2000, 2018 recounts

Osceola County supervisor of elections discusses recount procedures

By Brianna Volz - Web producer

Osceola County Supervisor of Elections Mary Jane Arrington talks to News 6's Erik von Ancken about the recount underway in Florida.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - As Florida counties are recounting ballots to determine the final results of an important midterm election this year, one Central Florida official is comparing the process to the major recount ordered in the close presidential race of 2000.

[Florida recount updates: US Rep. says signature cost him his vote]

Osceola County Supervisor of Elections Mary Jane Arrington talked to News 6's Erik von Ancken Monday as the bi-lingual ballots cast in her county were being separated by page and counted before the actual recount of votes could take place.

Arrington, who served on the canvassing board in 2000, discussed her county's plan for this year's recount and broke down how it compared to the recount ordered in Florida in the race between former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore.

This time, she said the team feels much more prepared.

[RELATED: 6 things you may not know about the Bush-Gore recount in 2000Florida 2000 presidential election recount judge says court fight could be coming]

Read her full interview with von Ancken below.

Von Ancken: Give us an update on what Osceola's doing and how they're doing it. 

Arrington: Okay, well, Osceola County was a lucky county. We have a multi-page ballot. And so the first thing we're doing is separating those ballot pages so we can have the most accurate count possible. So once we do that, and we hope we'll be finished with the separating of the ballots by to see sometime tonight, or if not, in the morning, and then hopefully tomorrow afternoon we can start the actual recount. 

Von Ancken: (When you say) lucky county, you mean the unlucky county. 

Arrington: Right. There's only... I think there's just a couple of handfuls in the state that have multi-page ballots. 

Von Ancken:  And that's because of the instructions, right? In English and Spanish? 

Arrington: Right, we have both languages on the ballot. 

Von Ancken: OK, afterwards... Do you still have a sample ballot? 

Arrington: I think we've got some printed in there. I'll see if I can get one for you. 

Von Ancken: It's pretty quiet here (at the elections office), isn't it? There's nobody around. 

Arrington: It is a holiday. It is double payday. 

Von Ancken: Say it again? 

Arrington:  It's double payday if you work today and you get paid, not time and a half but double because it is a holiday. 

Von Ancken:  And you've been working a lot? 

Arrington: Yes, we have. Twelve-hour days for 28 days, I believe. But since the recount has started, we came in the first thing as soon as we got notice on Saturday. I worked 'til 9:30 on Saturday, and we were back at 8 yesterday. Right. 

Von Ancken:  You're saying that the laundry has been piling up? 

Arrington:  The laundry is piling up, and we are running out of food at the Arrington house, so. 

Von Ancken: You hope to be done by, what, Wednesday evening? 

Arrington:  That would be our goal. 

Von Ancken:  Explain that to me. 

Arrington:  Well, first of all, we've never done this before. You know, we've never had a statewide recount for three elections, so we don't know how much time it's going to take. And there are timelines in the statutes, but those were just chosen when the legislation was made. So no one really knows how long this is going to take us. 

Von Ancken: How many ballots? 

Arrington: We had 116,000 voters vote, times two. So we have, we are dealing with 232,000 pieces of paper. 

Von Ancken:  Wow. 

Arrington: Yeah. 

Von Ancken: Are you gonna make the deadline? 

Arrington: Our goal is to make it. 

Von Ancken: Anyone having any problems with anything you're doing? 

Arrington: Not ... They have been really good. They've been complimentary. We've tried to be real open and ask all the questions they have. We've also given them an up-close look at the machines and how they work and tried to explain everything to them. But everyone seems to be good. 

Von Ancken: As you know, the majority of registered voters here in Osceola County are Democrats. 

Arrington: Yes, we are a heavily Democratic county. Our second party is no party affiliation. 

Von Ancken: Which is more than Republican? 

Arrington: Oh yes, more. 

Von Ancken: Are you getting especially intense scrutiny from Democrats? 

Arrington: No, sir. We've had someone here from Nelson's, Senator Nelson's campaign, and Mayor Gillum and we've not had anyone from the Democratic Party, where we have the Republican Party. 

Von Ancken: The gentleman was with Senator Nelson's campaign. Kinds of questions that you're getting when someone stands up? 

Arrington: They're mainly asking ... they're preparing for what happens if there's going to be a hand recount. They're trying to figure out how the reports will look, how we will be doing it. Just the general instructions of how this is going to work in the next stage. If we move to there. 

Von Ancken: What was his question in there in particular? 

Arrington: He was wanting to know about ... the sheet that I had was tabulated. It was the first unofficial results. He was wanting to know if we were going to print something out like that after we finish what we're doing with the machine recount. And we will be, but not while we have three races on it, because that's all we're looking at when we do the machine recount. 

Von Ancken: So the kinds of questions you're getting... just oversight questions? 

Arrington: Yeah, I think oversight and, of course, these people have never witnessed this either I don't think, so we all have questions as, you know, how's it going to look? What are we going to do? Will we... what's... this process continues. 

Von Ancken: And supervisor, last question, if you could explain this. A lot of people are wondering, how do the numbers keep changing? How do ballots keep, to use one candidate's word, "showing up?" 

Arrington:  Well, first of all, we don't ... the election does not end at 7 o'clock on Tuesday. We have to continually continue counting everyone's votes. And you have, maybe, mail ballots that you haven't processed yet. You have provisional ballots that you don't process 'til after two days after the election. 

Von Ancken: Because? 

Arrington: Because the voter has the opportunity to bring anything to us to make that ballot count. Like ,if we cannot find them on the voter roll, but they have their voter I.D. card, they can bring it and say, 'Here I am.' So they have two days, by law, to bring us any information that they need to so we can count their ballots. So we have to wait two days for that. Sometimes, when we're unpacking, and we've come right back Wednesday morning and start unpacking, what we've got, received back from the polls, there might be an unscanned ballot that was in an envelope. So we have to look through everything. Voting is not an exact science. We all wish it were, but it is not. So that's why. And the larger the county and the more pages you have, the larger the task is. 

Von Ancken: Fabulous. Thank you so much. How long you been supervisor here? 

Arrington: Ten years. 

Von Ancken: Wow, is this... this is the first time that you have had to do this, right? 

Arrington: I was the county commissioner in 2000 and on the canvassing board. 

Von Ancken: Wow, you were? 

Arrington:  Yes. So that was... But then, we had no procedures. 

Von Ancken: Yeah. 

Arrington:  You know, it was... we were all on our own. 

Von Ancken: Looking at hanging chads? 

Arrington: Yes. 

Von Ancken: Really? 

Arrington: Yeah, so... 

Von Ancken: But Osceola, of course, did not (inaudible). 

Arrington: No, uh uh. But I was telling them that we spent a lot of time writing our own procedures -- the canvassing board. We sat down. OK. We need (inaudible). 

Arrington: If we have something voter intent, and then when we get to the hand recount, we're going to be looking at the voter intent. 

Von Ancken: You mean, how do you tell that that's what they really... 

Arrington:  Meant. And voters do strange things. They mark their ballots in strange ways. You know, they write out to the side, or they circle instead of coloring in the double. They circle the bubble and so it's... 

Von Ancken: So now, the rule is, if you can determine... 

Arrington: We have guidelines that sort of help us. 

Von Ancken: So if it's pretty clear the voter wanted this candidate... 

Arrington:  Right. And these ballots are easy to read. When we had the chads, you know, sometimes the voter would miss the chad totally and you could see a pinhole under the chad because ... I don't know if you were familiar. You put your card in and there were two little buttons at the top that it had to hook on to, and if you didn't get 'em on those two little buttons, then it didn't line up. So that's why when you were holding up the cards, because you could see the pinholes where they had missed the chads. So it was a very... it was a learning experience, so. 

Von Ancken: But your experience in 2000, I don't think anyone realizes that you were on the canvassing board. Tell me, in 2000 -- what was that like? 

Arrington: Well, we went home thinking we had a settled election and, of course, we all made plans. So when you're on the canvassing board, you put in long hours before then. And so we got called back on Friday and said, you know, we're getting ready to do a recount. And in 2000, you didn't have procedures. You didn't have laws. And so we were all on our own to try to figure out the best way to do this. So we're really fortunate now that we do have procedures. And so Osceola County, our canvassing board, the judge and the other county commissioner who served on it at the time, we sat down and wrote our own procedures -- is how we're going to look at cards, how we're going to determine our voter intent. 

Von Ancken:  What kind of rules would have helped back then? 

Arrington: If we had had a rule like we do now about how to determine voter intent. We didn't have a mandatory number with what triggered a manual recount and a machine recount. So, it's a different world. We learned a lot in 2000. It's made Florida a better place. 

Von Ancken:  What did you do to determine this back in 2000? 

Arrington:  We held up cards and tried to see if we could determine if the voter had tried to punch out that chad, or if we turned it over, we could see the chad was hanging or, as they called it, there was pregnant chads, where they were popped out but not all the way out, so. 

Von Ancken:  You were right in the middle of that? 

Arrington:  I was. 

Von Ancken: You were explaining to me that, when you put the card down, it had to be... 

Arrington:  Right. It had ... there were two little knobs and two little holes in the card and you had to push your card down and hook it on to the two knobs. Voters sometimes didn't realize that, so they would have their ballot not down quite enough, so they would miss the chad and there would be little pinholes directly under the chad where they had missed hitting the chad. 

Von Ancken: Instead of being punched all the way through, making it clear? 

Arrington: Right. There was a pinhole so that when you saw people holding up the cards with a magnifying glass, they were trying to see if the voter had missed the chad. 

Von Ancken:  How do you determine, now, voter intent? What are the new rules? 

Arrington: Well, the new rule is that, you know, it tells us about marking. You know, if we believe that the voter intended to mark. If they wrote out by Gov. Scott's name, "This one," then we know, and they didn't color in the bubble, then we know that they intended to vote for that first candidate. Or if they circled the candidate and it didn't hit the bubble, so it picks ... it didn't pick it up. So we know if they circled the name that that's who they intended to vote for. 

Von Ancken: Any concerns that that may happen again this time? 

Arrington: I hope not. I think we've got enough rules. I think, I think we'll be OK. We just have got a monumental task in front of us because of the timeframe. 

Von Ancken:  Also, the margins aren't nearly as close as they were in 2000. 

Arrington:  No, they're not 400 votes away. Well, in one race they are. I think they're about that, so. 

Von Ancken: The agriculture race. 

Arrington: The agriculture race, so. 

Von Ancken:  Lastly, lessons learned from then and to now? How, this time, you know, I know it's monumental, but you believe this is far easier than what you faced in 2000? 

Arrington: Well, I think we have guidelines, and before we didn't have guidelines. And those guidelines are going to guide us and help us make sure that every vote is counted and counted as accurately as we can do it. 

Von Ancken: Are they already? Do you have some examples you could tell us about? 

Arrington: Not yet, but we will soon, hopefully. 

Von Ancken: Any provisions that you've opened up that you can now determine because you have rules? 

Arrington:  We see it when we're looking at, maybe, mail ballots because we see those first. We see where voters have put check marks They've circled the candidate's name, they've written, they've checked one candidate and then wrote their name also in the write-in line and colored in the bubble. So that would be an overvote because maybe they thought they needed to put it in both places. So we've seen some things like that. 

Von Ancken: And now the rules will help you figure out what they were intending because? 

Arrington: Because we just have guidelines that help us do that. And a lot of it's common sense. 

News 6 photographer: Is there any that you flat-out rejected? 

Arrington: Well, sometimes you cannot tell voter intent because they've given you, they've circled everybody, or they've colored in every bubble. And then they voted for one candidate and wrote Mickey Mouse in the write-in, and Mickey Mouse is the number one write-in candidate in Osceola County. 

Von Ancken: Is that true? Really? 

Arrington: Yes, he gets more... In the write-in lines, he gets more votes than any other write-in candidate. 

Von Ancken: Because of proximity I would imagine? 

Arrington: I think so, yeah. People like Mickey in Osceola County. 

Von Ancken: Thank you so much. 

Arrington: You're welcome. 

Florida's governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner races are being recounted after the Florida secretary of state announced Saturday they would need to be reviewed due to a narrow margin of victory in the three races.

Stay with News 6 and ClickOrlando.com as the recount continues and the results are determined.

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