HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Over the past decade, all of the major races on the top of the Florida ballot have been extremely close. The race for governor, U.S. Senate and Agriculture Commissioner all fell within half a percentage point last year, mandating an unprecedented three statewide recounts in all 67 counties.

  • ClearAudit used during this year's Tampa municipal elections
  • Right now it can only be used for audits, not recounts
  • More Politics headlines

In Hillsborough County, an extremely tight state Senate race necessitated that office to conduct four separate recounts following the 2018 election. The frequency of those recounts is one reason why Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer has decided to implement a software program called ClearAudit, which uses digital images of every paper ballot to allow election officials to quickly inspect ballots with questionable markings to verify votes.

“We’ve had recounts since I’ve been here constantly, so this is just a little more assurance to me and our staff to make sure that we’ve accounted for everything,” Latimer told Spectrum Bay News 9 last week.

But right now, Latimer’s office can only use ClearAudit for audits, which are different from recounts. A recount re-tallies votes on all of the ballots in a race to determine if the initial tally is correct; an audit only examines a sample of those ballots to see if the system that’s doing the counting and recounting is accurate.

The state mandates that counties audit their elections by conducting a manual tally in one randomly selected race in at least one percent of the precincts. Or they can conduct an automated tally of the votes cast across all races in at least 20 percent of the precincts chosen at random by the county’s canvassing board.

Hillsborough now joins six other counties in Florida (Bay, Columbia, Leon, Nassau, Putnam and St. Lucie) who currently use ClearAudit. Supervisors of Elections in those counties say it’s clearly the best tool to use in a recount situation, especially in a situation like year when multiple recounts are in order.

“I feel that I have a system that can conduct a much better audit than what the state mandates,” says Mark Earley, the Supervisor of Elections in Leon County.

However, ClearAudit is not yet sanctioned for use in Florida recount elections. There have been attempts to get the Legislature to certify it for use in state recount elections in recent years without success.

Latimer used ClearAudit for the first time during the city of Tampa’s municipal election earlier this year.

“We’ve had recounts since I’ve been here constantly, so this is just a little more assurance to me and our staff to make sure that we’ve accounted for everything. And doing a one-hundred percent audit, I don’t think anybody can throw stones at you.”