ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Amid much criticism and ridicule, Florida’s election officials continued to count ballots on Friday and it’s still unclear who won the presidential race in the state.
The margin between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney remained small; as of Friday afternoon Obama had 60,767 votes more than Romney, or 0.72 of the total. Obama had 49.9 percent of the votes and Romney had 49.2 percent.
Counties have a noon Saturday deadline to submit unofficial results to the secretary of state — but the race is too close for The Associated Press to call.
The winner will likely emerge Saturday after the secretary of state receives the unofficial results. Agency spokesman Chris Cate said Saturday is when a recount would be ordered if the final margin is less than one-half of one percent.
State law mandates an automatic machine recount of all ballots if the final margin between the top two candidates is less than one-half of one percent — unless the trailing candidate asked in writing that it not be conducted. Several members of Romney’s campaign staff did not return calls for comment Friday. On Thursday, Romney’s campaign was not conceding the state and was waiting for the count to be completed.
There is a Nov. 16 deadline for overseas and military ballots, but Cate said under Florida law, recounts are based on the first unofficial results.
Obama already has been declared the overall winner of the presidential election, based on results in the rest of the country. Without Florida and its 29 electoral votes, Obama has won 303 electoral votes to 206 for Romney.
It’s normal for election supervisors in Florida and elsewhere to spend days after any election counting absentee, provisional, military and overseas ballots. Usually, though, the election has already been called on election night or soon after.
But on election night this year, it was difficult for officials — and the media — to call the presidential race here, in part because voting stretched into the evening and officials weren’t able to tally all of the votes right away.
In Miami-Dade, for instance, so many people were in line at 7 p.m. in certain precincts that some folks didn’t vote until after midnight.
The hours-long wait at the polls in some areas, a lengthy ballot and the fact that Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend early voting hours has garnered criticism for Florida’s voting process. Some officials have vowed to investigate why there were problems at the polls and how that led to a lengthy vote count.
Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio — who also previously served as Hillsborough County’s supervisor of elections — announced on Facebook on Friday that she is organizing a statewide review of voting. She had hoped that the state had moved past the recount of 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which made the Florida the nation’s laughingstock.
“After the 2000 election debacle we set out to improve technology and the laws so that Florida’s 67 counties could have standardized processes,” she wrote. “What I saw in the past 4 weeks has been a setback for our state.”
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