Jay Fant remained a scant three votes ahead of Paul Renner in the Republican Party primary for Florida House District 15 after the county’s last absentee and provisional ballots were counted Thursday.
At this point, the hotly contested race stands where it did on election night. Fant has 5,962 votes while Renner’s count stands at 5,959.
The race is expected to go to a recount Friday morning, said Jerry Holland, Duval County supervisor of elections.
The race between Fant and Renner was one of the most expensive House races in the primary with the candidates spending about $699,000.
“Any time you go into an election that is this close, it gets nerve-wracking,” said Brett Doster, a Fant campaign spokesman.
Legal counsel for both parties were present Thursday night at the Duval County Election Canvassing Board, which can decide whether ballots in question can be counted.
The importance of each vote was highlighted by the Renner campaign, which brought a Westside man whose absentee ballot had been denied on the basis of a signature that didn’t match his voter registration. The ballot was ultimately denied by the board.
Renner’s campaign and the voter, James Rushin, both said he hadn’t revealed who he voted for although Rushin said his vote would have gone to Renner. Rushin’s signature when he registered in 1996 is quite different from his signature today, the canvassing board said in a 2-1 vote.
“The process is what it is so far,” said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Renner. “It’s obviously complicated.” He was disappointed Rushin’s vote didn’t count.
The board approved the unofficial results Thursday evening, which will go to the state for a decision on a recount.
By state law, if an election is within .5 percent, all votes must be recounted by machines. If the race is within .25 percent, certain ballots must be also be recounted by hand, a process that is expected to start at 10 a.m. Friday and run until all votes are double-checked, Holland said.
One-hundred-forty-three ballots must still be inspected.
Those ballots did not indicate a clear mark indicating a vote, but elections officials will examine them to see if any marks – such as a circle or check mark – might suggest a selection.
The Duval County District 2 School Board race also is expected to go to a recount. At issue in that race is the three votes that separate Theresa Graham and Sam Hall. Hall has 2,448 votes while Graham has 2,445. Scott Shine has 5,789 votes or 45.77 percent of those cast.
Since Shine didn’t get 50 percent plus one, he’ll face the second-place finisher in a run-off in November.
Holland estimated the recounts for the District 15 race and the remaining School Board race will cost up to $100,000 when accounting for temporary employee and overtime expenses.
Staff Writer David Bauerlein contributed to this report.
Meredith Rutland: (904) 359-4161