Three pairs of eyes scrutinized one ballot after another at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office in Tampa, making sure signatures matched on provisional ballots before counting them among the county’s votes. The board also ordered two recounts, one for the county’s school millage tax referendum that would have increased property taxes to pay for teacher raises and the other recount for the county court judge group 14 race.
"So we've got the school board millage question will go to a recount and also group 14 judges. And that's kind of unique because nobody got 50%. So the top two vote getters will move forward to the general," said Craig Latimer, the supervisor of elections for Hillsborough County. "The machines are going to out stack or pull out all of the over votes and under votes."
Latimer said a machine recount happens when there’s half a percent difference between the votes. There was a .26% difference with votes against the school tax referendum edging ahead, and there was a .34% difference for the county court judge race.
The primaries kicked off the test of Florida’s new election laws targeting election security and vote by mail rules.
"We have such secure ballot intake stations now that you drop your ballot off at," said Latimer. "We've always done that and at my four offices."
Some changes start after the November election.
"The requirement to add your Florida driver's license information, and they'll ask for your social when you request a ballot that that has gone into effect," said Latimer. "But where that's really going to affect people is after the November election, because everybody's going to have to re-up that request for the vote by mail ballot."
Officials said about 53% of Hillsborough’s primary votes were mail-in ballots. University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus said mail voting went up across the state.
"So it probably is at least somewhat satisfying to voters and to the supervisors that in spite of some of these changes, which some speculate would just intimidate voters to the nth degree, it didn't work like that at all," said MacManus, a distinguished university professor emerita at USF.
Elections offices like Hillsborough County now have new policies in places for observing.
"The fact that you're able to go in there and look at it and see it firsthand. That helps eliminate a lot of concern that there's some kind of suspicious stuff going on," said MacManus.
Latimer said checks and balances were already in place and now more help build trust in the system.
The Hillsborough County elections office will do a machine recount of the two races Friday starting at 10 a.m. Officials said those results will be counted in with the other votes by August 30 at the latest.