Fortunately for the United States, Florida won’t swing the election, because if it did, the nation may be without a president-elect for a while longer.
The other 49 states have been called, and President Obama has easily won reelection. But Florida carries 29 electoral votes, and as of Thursday afternoon, the state still did not know which candidate has won them.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Obama leads Mitt Romney by roughly 55,000 votes, according to Florida’s official tally — a small sliver of the 8.4 million ballots counted. Even networks have refrained from declaring a winner.
So what went wrong?
Officials attribute the delay to a combination of record turnout — seven in 10 Floridians voted — and long lines that had many voters waiting late into the night. Combine that with a shorter early-voting period and a long ballot, and the state was ill-equipped to process the results in a timely manner of what was expected to be a close contest.
“Obviously there are a lot of reasons for the long lines. Some are equipment based, some are mechanics, some are the length of the ballot — it was super long, it was the longest ballot ever,” Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, told TPM. “And the number of polling locations have shrunk in Florida because it’s harder for local supervisors to secure polling places. So you have longer lines, longer ballots and we’ve seen a decline in the number of election day polling sites. It’s a convergence of a lot of different factors.”
According to the Orlando Sentinel, four counties were still counting ballots Thursday: Broward, Duval, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. Combine that with a 36 hour delay in tallying up absentee ballots and the state is far behind in making a final determination.
The Romney campaign’s Florida team doesn’t sound optimistic about the result.
“The numbers in Florida show this was winnable,” Romney’s Florida adviser Brett Doster said, according to the Miami Herald. “We thought based on our polling and range of organization that we had done what we needed to win. Obviously, we didn’t, and for that I, and every other operative in Florida has a sick feeling that we left something on the table. I can assure you this won’t happen again.”
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina said he believes that the president will win Florida.
The Sentinel reports that there may not be a total vote count until Saturday. State law forces an automatic recount if the margin of victory is within 0.5 percent.
Asked whether Romney can still win, McManus said, “That’s seemingly unlikely.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.