Election 2012: Florida counting last presidential votes; Obama still narrowly leads

A Miami-Dade Elections Department employee tallies absentee ballot reports in Doral, Fla., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley says the agency has "no more than 500" ballots to count Thursday. Elections workers are uploading some 21,000 ballots into the system today after uploading 10,000 on Wednesday.(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

A Miami-Dade Elections Department employee tallies absentee ballot reports in Doral, Fla., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley says the agency has "no more than 500" ballots to count Thursday. Elections workers are uploading some 21,000 ballots into the system today after uploading 10,000 on Wednesday.(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

MIAMI — Two days after President Barack Obama won re-election, Florida was the only state still too close to call.

The results were so close that they could trigger a recount, bringing back memories of the 2000 election, though the votes would hardly matter.

Under Florida law, the state's secretary of state could order a recount if Obama's lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney finished below a half-percentage point. A manual recount could be ordered if the ended below a quarter-percentage point. On Thursday, Obama led Romney 49.9 percent to 49.3 percent — about 9,000 votes over the recount threshold.

Romney's campaign could waive the recount. The phones at Romney's national campaign headquarters were not taking messages Thursday and the voice mailbox at his Florida campaign in Tampa was full. Secretary of state spokesman Chris Cate said it was unclear how much a recount would cost taxpayers.

Florida is still undecided largely due to long voting lines on election night, a deluge of last-minute absentee ballots and other assorted problems. Some counties are still tallying these votes — and scrutinizing provisional ballots — and those tens of thousands of votes are essential to the state's presidential results.

Miami-Dade County suffered the bulk of glitches and long lines, with some voters waiting until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday to cast their ballot. Local politicians vowed to figure out why lines were so long; some speculated it was the length of the ballot (there were 12 statewide constitutional amendments) while others blamed the reduction of early voting days from 14 to eight by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.

The long lines prompted frustrated residents like Jorge Lopez-Bernal to call the state "a joke."

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez asserted: "this is not a third-world country."

"The waits were way too far," Gimenez said. "And we've got to get some answers as to what happened. Why? Why wasn't it foreseen?"

Gimenez said he would ask Gov. Rick Scott to extend early voting hours in future elections.

Scott didn't return calls on Thursday about the voting problems from The Associated Press. On Wednesday, he said he was willing to look at whether changes are needed to make voting go smoother.

Scott came under a barrage of criticism after he refused to use his emergency powers to extend the number of days of early voting.

Scott said he will sit down with state election officials soon to discuss ways to improve the election.

Another cause of the vote logjam was absentee ballots and the fact that voters had until 7 p.m. Tuesday to drop them off.

Officials in several counties said voters handed in the sealed envelopes containing the ballots shortly before polls closed Tuesday evening, and elections workers needed to verify the signatures and run the ballots through the voting machines. In Pinellas County, there were about 9,000 such ballots and it took most of the day Wednesday to process them.

EARLIER:

Florida vote tally still incomplete, but not crucial this time

ST. PETERSBURG — Florida ended up not being so crucial after all.

The country's largest swing state shunned the national spotlight Tuesday night, stubbornly holding on to its 29 electoral votes as Republican Mitt Romney conceded and President Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech.

By Wednesday, Florida was still undecided and, for once, unimportant.

After months of being told over and over that it would be essential to a White House victory, Florida took too long to count the ballots and the race was simply too close to call.

Odella Puryear of St. Petersburg hoped Florida would tip the presidency in Obama's favor as it did in 2008, but she didn't get her wish.

"I thought that was sad," she said. "Also, why did everybody wait until the last minute to vote?"

The never-ending lines may have made it seem like everyone waited, but actually, about 38 percent of the votes were cast early. Some absentee ballots were dropped off at the last moment, slowing the state's tally.

As of Wednesday, Obama was winning 49.8 percent to Romney's 49.2 percent.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami said more people should vote by mail.

"I thank everyone who stood in line. Your vote was not in vain," she said. "You never knew how this election was going to turn up. We could have been today discussing 'Oh my gosh, when is Florida's vote going to come in?' And it could tip a balance for a candidate or against a candidate."

That was the case in 2000, an election marred by a lengthy recount of dimpled ballots and hanging chads. The Supreme Court declared Republican George W. Bush the winner by a scant 537 votes.

The margin between Obama and Romney was much more than that, but thousands of votes still had to be counted.

Susan McManus, a political science professor at University of South Florida, said that while Florida wasn't particularly relevant Tuesday, it' won't always be that way.

"That chemistry can change from one election to another," she said. "I don't think there's ever going to be an election with a competitive state like Florida that won't be a hard-fought place."

Some voters dismissed the idea that the Sunshine State has no electoral cache.

"No I don't think it was irrelevant," said Mike Ugart, who works in orthopedics. He said he waited three hours to vote in the Miami neighborhood of Country Walk. "Every last vote counts for the future. We gotta have it. It's part of our process. I'm not disenfranchised with Florida. We are lucky we can vote."

Anna Neill, 35, an attorney from Miami, said she felt the same, saying she was anxiously waiting Wednesday to make certain Obama won the state.

"It's very important to me that Florida is blue," she said.

Neill helped with the Obama campaign in the final three days of the election, canvassing door to door and last night at a polling station.

Wendy Wheaton, 37, voted in Santa Rosa County on Florida's Panhandle, which also was later than most in counting ballots. She said Americans just don't want to wait for results anymore.

"If you look back even 20 years ago, counting the votes was so much slower than it is now with today's technology," she said.

States will turn RED (Rep.) or BLUE (Dem.) when confirmed by AP. (Refresh the story to update)

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