Florida’s most populous county including Miami-Dade launched a recount Saturday afternoon for an estimated 813,000 ballots, after state officials ordered recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and agricultural commissioner.

The stray ballots from the Opa-locka mail sorting facility arrived at Miami-Dade’s Elections Department on Saturday morning. There were 266 of them. 

Suzy Trutie, a spokeswoman for the agency, disclosed the number Saturday night as Miami-Dade began recounting more than 800,000 ballots cast in the races for Florida’s governor, senator and agriculture commissioner. The process is part of a statewide recount that must finish Thursday afternoon. 

The Opa-locka ballots won’t be counted. Florida law says county election offices can only count mail-in ballots that arrive by the time polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day. Miami-Dade received 15,000 mail-in ballots on Tuesday while voting was under way, and those were added to the county’s total of more than 813,000 votes. 

Democrats have seized on reports of the late-arriving mailed ballots as proof that votes aren’t being counted in tight contests for governor and Senate that their candidates are currently losing. Photos posted on social media of the federal mail-processing facility showed mail-in ballots yet to be delivered, and Miami-Dade’s Election Department said those ballots arrived by mail on Saturday. 

Trutie said late-arriving ballots are typical after an election. She could not give a count of the number of ballots Miami-Dade has received after Tuesday. 

On Saturday morning, several dozen protesters gathered outside the Miami-Dade county elections department to demand that all ballots — including those found sitting inside a mail sorting facility in Opa-locka — be counted.

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Florida law requires an automatic recount in a race in which the difference in vote totals is half a percent or less. The law requires a manual recount if the difference in the vote totals is 1/4 of a percent or less. 

Former Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard, political director of The New Florida Majority and one of the protest organizers, said he believed some of the ballots had been mailed ahead of time. He said he worries that if voters lose confidence in the electoral process, they may not vote in future elections.

“The problem is that if people feel as though their vote doesn’t count and they feel as though something is awry, they’re going to be less likely to want to participate in it,” he said.

Bullard said the uncertainty of the situation felt “eerily similar” to the contested 2000 presidential election.

“You would think in 18 years that we would have fixed that problem, but the idea that we’re still standing here in 2018 dealing with votes that haven’t been counted is troubling,” he said.

Protester Sue Brogan, 71, a Gillum supporter, said she just wanted election results she could trust, regardless of whether her candidate ended up winning.

“Whoever wins needs the credibility behind them,” she said. “I’ll accept defeat if it’s fairly counted, fairly processed and everybody’s vote was counted.”

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