Recount prospects grow as Florida races tighten

The races for Senate and governor in Florida tightened even further on Thursday, raising the prospect that two of the highest profile contests in the country could be headed to a recount.

The tumult also underscored how intensely divided the country’s largest and most volatile battleground state remains along political and demographic lines 18 years after handing George W. Bush the presidency following one of the most controversial  recounts in U.S. history.

As of Thursday afternoon, just 17,344 votes – a difference of 0.22 percentage points – separated Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonRepublicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment Rubio says hackers penetrated Florida elections systems MORE (D) and his Republican challenger, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in their closely watched Senate race.

Meanwhile, the race for Florida governor also unexpectedly narrowed, with new vote totals showing Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) and former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDHS official: Florida one of the 'best' states on election security, despite 2016 Russian hack Florida teacher arrested for loaded gun in backpack told reporter: 'Ask DeSantis' Trump officials not sending migrants to Florida after backlash MORE (D) within 0.47 points of one another.

The close races have buoyed Democratic hopes that Nelson and Gillum could still eek out narrow wins, frustrating Republicans who saw the contests as all but decided after Tuesday's elections.

In Florida, machine recounts are triggered when the margin between two candidates is of below 0.5 points, while hand recounts are prompted when candidates are separated by 0.25 points or less.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Marc Elias, a prominent elections lawyer hired by Nelson to counsel him through a recount, was bullish about the senator’s prospects of winning a fourth term in the chamber.

He said that vote totals were still coming in from Broward and Palm Beach counties – both Democratic strongholds – and that a hand recount appeared inevitable.

“At the end of this process Sen. Nelson is going to prevail,” Elias said. “I will say it’s a jump ball."

Meanwhile, Scott’s campaign accused the three-term Democrat of trying to “steal" the election.

Scott has already declared victory in the race, though Nelson has yet to concede. 

The political landscape in Florida got another shock to the system on Thursday, when Gillum opened the door to a possible recount in his bid for governor.

Gillum conceded to DeSantis on Tuesday night after polls showed him trailing by a slim – but then seemingly insurmountable – 1 point margin.

But new returns on Thursday showed the gap is closing. DeSantis, who once led Gillum by nearly 80,000 votes, is currently ahead by only 38,515 votes, according to the most recent count posted by the Florida Division of Elections.

“Mayor Gillum started his campaign for the people, and we are committed to ensuring every single vote in Florida is counted,” Johanna Cervone, Gillum’s communications director, said in a statement.

The closest state-wide race in Florida is the contest for agriculture commissioner, where Democrat Nikki Fried leads Republican Matt Caldwell by a mere 575 votes. Though a lower profile race, agriculture commissioner is a Cabinet-level position in Florida and is seen as influential in state policymaking.

Most Florida counties have yet to complete evaluations of provisional ballots – those cast by voters whose eligibility was uncertain or unverified.

As of Thursday afternoon, Broward County election officials were still tallying up vote-by-mail ballots and early voting ballots. Meanwhile, officials in Palm Beach County were busy counting vote-by-mail ballots.

Machine recounts in Florida would need to be completed by Nov. 15, while manual recounts would need to be wrapped up by Nov. 18, setting up the prospect of an intense race to count the votes.

Other high-profile election results across the country were also up in the air.

In Arizona, vote counts continued to trickle in for the Senate race between Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOn The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Senate defense bill would make military sexual harassment standalone crime MORE (R).

Just over 17,000 votes currently separate the two candidates in a crucial race to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSen. Coons examines Amazon's privacy and data security practices for Alexa devices Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax The Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget MORE (R-Ariz.).

In a bid to limit mail-in ballots in the state, the Arizona Republican Party filed a lawsuit late Wednesday alleging that some county recorders have allowed voters to fix problems with their mail-in ballots after Election Day.

Arizona is expected to release the results of a new batch of tallied votes on Thursday evening.

In Georgia, the race for governor also remains too close to call. Republican Brian Kemp, who declared victory and resigned his post as the Georgia secretary of state on Thursday, is hanging on to a slim 1.6-point margin.

But Democrat Stacey Abrams is hoping that outstanding ballots will give her the votes to close that gap enough to trigger a runoff election.

Her campaign preparing a lawsuit alleging that some voters in Dougherty County weren't given enough time to return their absentee ballots by Election Day, because the county was too slow to send them out.

“We are in this race until we’re convinced that every vote is counted,” Abrams’s campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said at a press conference Thursday. “We don’t believe any of these numbers are credible.”