Florida election recount underway as tensions rise

The first election workers have begun the enormous task of recounting ballots in Florida’s bitterly close races for the US Senate and governor.

The move came after the secretary of state ordered a review of the two nationally watched contests.

Miami-Dade County election officials began feeding ballots into scanning machines on Saturday evening.

The tedious work in that one South Florida county alone could take days, considering some 800,000 ballots were cast.

The Florida secretary of state ordered the recounts on Saturday, an unprecedented step for the two flagship races in a state that took five weeks to decide the 2000 presidential election.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s office said it was unaware of any other time either a race for governor or US Senate in Florida required a recount, let alone both in the same election.

Florida’s 67 counties can decide when to begin their recounts, but must complete them by Thursday.

Elections officials in two large counties in the Tampa Bay area – Pinellas and Hillsborough – said they would begin recounts on Sunday morning.

Unofficial results show that Republican Ron DeSantis led Democrat Andrew Gillum by less than 0.5 percentage points, which will require a machine recount of ballots.

In the Senate race, Republican Gov Rick Scott’s lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is less than 0.25 percentage points, requiring a hand recount of ballots from tabulation machines that could not determine which candidate got the vote.

The recount opens against a backdrop of political tensions. President Donald Trump on Saturday tweeted without evidence that the elections were being stolen.

Following the announcement of a recount, Mr Gillum withdrew his concession in the governor’s race.

“Let me say clearly, I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every single vote,” he said, adding that he would accept whatever outcome emerges.

In a video statement, Mr DeSantis said the election results were “clear and unambiguous” and that he was preparing to become the state’s next governor.

He also thanked the state’s supervisors of elections, canvassing boards, and the staffs for “working hard to ensure that all lawful votes are counted”.

“It is important that everyone involved in the election process strictly adhere to the rule of law which is the foundation for our nation,” he said.

In the Senate recount, Mr Scott implored the state’s sheriffs to “watch for any violations and take appropriate action” during the recount.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said on Friday it has not launched any investigation into election fraud.

The scene recalled the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, and thus giving Mr Bush the presidency.

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Florida surgeon mistakes woman’s healthy kidney for tumour, removes it

A Florida woman underwent back surgery and ended up having a healthy kidney removed after a surgeon mistook the organ for a tumour.

In 2016, Maureen Pacheco was scheduled to undergo surgery to have bones in her lower back fused together. She left the hospital missing a vital organ.

“As you can imagine, when someone goes in for a back surgery, she would never expect to wake up and be told when she’s just waking up from anesthesia, that one of her kidneys has been unnecessarily removed,” the woman’s lawyer, Donald J. Ward, told the Palm Beach Post.

According to a complaint made by Florida’s Department of Health, when Dr. Ramon Vazquez cut open the then-51-year-old, he noticed a “pelvic mass and provided a presumptive diagnosis” of cancer. The “mass” was removed “in its entirety.”

“He just took my life and just dismissed it,” Pacheco told NBC News. “If he would have looked at the MRIs that were given to him he would have realized.”

Those MRIs showed the woman had a pelvic kidney.

“On or about May 2, 2016, a pathologist at WRMC confirmed the pelvic mass removed by [surgeon] was an intact pelvic kidney,” reads the department of health complaint, adding the removal was “a medically unnecessary procedure.”

Pacheco sued Vazques and two other surgeons for malpractice. The lawsuit was settled in September.

“The case was settled on his behalf for a nominal amount due to the uncertainty of litigation and in no way did Dr. Vazquez admit liability by agreeing to this settlement,” Vazquez’s attorney Mark Mittelmark told the Palm Beach Post.

Vazquez is still employed at the hospital but faces the complaint from Florida’s Department of Health, which could lead to the doctor’s licence being revoked or he could be ordered to pay a fine, the newspaper reported.

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Florida restores voting rights to convicts

An estimated 1.2 million Florida residents who have served time in prison have regained the right to vote, thanks to passage of a new state constitutional amendment.

Amendment 4 received 65% of the vote, according to the Miami Herald, changing 150-year-old language in the state’s constitution.

Previously, Florida was one of just four states in the US that automatically and permanently revoked voting rights from anyone who had been convicted of a felony-level crime.

“We celebrate one of the largest expansions of the franchise in our nation’s history,” wrote ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon in a statement.

Previously, formerly incarcerated Floridians had to wait five years after their release, then apply for clemency from the governor’s office. Since 2011, Republican Governor Rick Scott has only given the vote back to about 2,000 people.

To be eligible, former prisoners must complete their sentences and all the terms of their release, including probation. The language of the amendment excludes those convicted of murder and serious sexual offenses, but supporters still estimate that over 1 million Floridians who have served time in prison would become newly eligible to vote.

A cross-party, grassroots coalition gathered about 800,000 signatures to get the amendment on the 6 November ballot. The measure needed 60% to pass.

Supporters of the amendment argued for months that preventing former inmates from voting unfairly disenfranchised men and women who had repaid their debt to society, and prevented them from fully integrating back into society. They also argued that such laws disproportionately impact African Americans.

The amendment was endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the Koch brothers-backed, conservative group Freedom Partners.

“If we want people returning to society to be productive, law abiding citizens, we need to treat them like full-fledged citizens,” Freedom Partners Chairman Mark Holden wrote in his endorsement.

The move also attracted significant star power from singer John Legend and Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman.

Across the US, a patchwork of laws impacts formerly incarcerated people from voting. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 6 million Americans are barred from voting due to their criminal records.

In Florida, language stripping the vote from felons was written into the state constitution 150 years ago, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, as a means to prevent African Americans from voting.

With passage of the amendment, Florida joins the ranks of dozens of American cities and states that have been relaxing restrictions on voting for former prisoners in recent years. In April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo restored the voting rights of an estimated 24,000 people who are currently on probation or parole.

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