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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 6:48 PM
Updated: Nov 16, 2018 6:59 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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 581335

Reported Deaths: 7267
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1206301710
Ramsey50221865
Dakota44921441
Anoka40688432
Washington26275278
Stearns21864220
St. Louis17475302
Scott16941123
Wright15685135
Olmsted1308297
Sherburne1136784
Carver1029545
Clay806892
Rice7920104
Blue Earth736041
Crow Wing650687
Kandiyohi646681
Chisago579751
Otter Tail565877
Benton558897
Goodhue469972
Mower459432
Douglas458774
Winona447350
McLeod416558
Itasca416253
Morrison412660
Isanti407062
Nobles406348
Beltrami386258
Steele379115
Polk378567
Becker374049
Lyon356850
Carlton340152
Freeborn338929
Pine323321
Nicollet320243
Brown302740
Mille Lacs297252
Le Sueur284722
Todd277131
Cass264828
Meeker249638
Waseca234821
Martin227131
Roseau204519
Wabasha20293
Hubbard182941
Dodge18073
Renville177543
Redwood170636
Houston166915
Cottonwood161921
Fillmore153710
Pennington153219
Wadena152121
Chippewa151238
Faribault149419
Kanabec141824
Sibley140610
Aitkin132836
Watonwan12979
Rock126819
Jackson120911
Pipestone113626
Yellow Medicine113420
Pope10766
Murray10529
Swift103818
Stevens88011
Marshall87417
Clearwater85416
Koochiching80914
Lake80519
Wilkin79612
Lac qui Parle74822
Big Stone5924
Lincoln5723
Grant5638
Mahnomen5408
Norman5369
Unassigned51793
Kittson48222
Red Lake3947
Traverse3675
Lake of the Woods3173
Cook1550

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 364143

Reported Deaths: 5900
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57127619
Linn20675333
Scott19714239
Black Hawk15734307
Woodbury15078228
Johnson1438283
Dubuque13308207
Dallas1108797
Pottawattamie11021166
Story1052948
Warren571488
Clinton550792
Cerro Gordo534689
Sioux511674
Webster510892
Marshall480775
Muscatine472999
Des Moines450366
Wapello4278122
Buena Vista423940
Jasper412770
Plymouth399979
Lee371955
Marion360075
Jones296457
Henry290237
Carroll284352
Bremer282360
Crawford264140
Boone262334
Benton254955
Washington252250
Dickinson247343
Mahaska228850
Jackson220642
Clay214625
Kossuth214564
Tama208871
Delaware208040
Winneshiek196333
Page191921
Buchanan190331
Cedar188623
Hardin184443
Fayette184341
Wright183136
Harrison179073
Hamilton178949
Clayton168456
Butler163734
Mills161321
Madison159719
Floyd159442
Cherokee158338
Lyon157541
Poweshiek154533
Allamakee150251
Iowa147924
Hancock146534
Winnebago140631
Cass137654
Grundy136032
Calhoun135313
Emmet133040
Jefferson132135
Shelby130337
Sac129819
Appanoose127847
Louisa127849
Union127332
Mitchell125642
Chickasaw123515
Guthrie120629
Humboldt118726
Franklin116221
Palo Alto112123
Howard104122
Montgomery102437
Unassigned9990
Clarke99324
Keokuk95431
Monroe95028
Ida90234
Adair86032
Pocahontas85422
Monona82830
Davis81324
Osceola77716
Greene77310
Lucas76823
Worth7338
Taylor65612
Fremont6209
Decatur6059
Van Buren55618
Ringgold54424
Wayne53123
Audubon5009
Adams3374
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