Andrew Gillum is about to be out of a job, either way.
As of Monday, he will no longer be the mayor of Tallahassee. The Florida machine recount of more than 8 million ballots won’t be over by then. It was authorized automatically on November 10th when Gillum’s deficit in the Florida governor’s race dipped below .5 percent, and Palm Beach County got a judge’s ruling extending its deadline to Tuesday, November 20th for submitting its results. So, for at least a day, Gillum will wake up not holding elective office for the first time since he was a senior in college.
“Thanks for the reminder, I needed that,” Gillum says with a laugh when speaking by phone with Rolling Stone on Tuesday, his first press interview since he withdrew his concession. “Quite frankly, if I’m unsuccessful in this race — after a legitimate vote has been taken and after a legitimate count has been completed, and if I’m not the victor here — what I have said, certainly in this moment that we now find ourselves, is that I’m not leaving the field.”
What does “not leaving the field” mean for Gillum, though? Should he succeed against steep odds, overcoming a deficit of a little more than 33,000 votes to defeat Republican rival Ron DeSantis, that question is answered easily. Gillum, 39, would become the first black governor of the third most populous state in the nation, one of the Democratic Party’s most visible and charismatic young stars. But what if he loses?
Gillum offers a clue with his approach to the recount, spending last Sunday and Monday barnstorming through predominantly black churches in the state and encouraging audiences to fight to ensure that every vote is tallied. Gillum spoke with Rolling Stone while he and running mate Chris King were in Orlando, thanking campaign staff for their work and urging them to remain vigilant as the recount ensues. We discussed his approach to the recount, and why he is using it as a moment to tell Florida — and America — something about itself.
Rolling Stone: I’ll get right into it. Where’s your head at right now?
Andrew Gillum: [Laughs] It’s still in the game. I can tell you that much. I’m in the game right now because I know what is at stake. Frankly, not just for my race, but what this means for democratic participation, period. And I don’t mean big-D Democrat, but, you know, society and our system in this country, where too often people remove themselves from the process because they don’t believe that it can work for them. Too often the refrain is, “My vote doesn’t matter and it won’t count.” And we literally right now find ourselves in the throes of deciding whether or not somebody’s vote is going to count. Using arbitrary things like whether or not their signature today matched the one yesterday, or whether or not they had the appropriate form of identification, or whatever arbitrary thing that we assign. And this, for me, isn’t about any one of those things. It really is about the fact that voter disenfranchisement occurs when people don’t feel like they’re fully represented, fully seen, fully heard in the process.
And we’re staring down that barrel right now, where you’ve got a governor and a president of the United States and a junior senator in my state basically saying, “Stop the count.” And you got young people who got out there for the very, very first time and decided to engage in this process and they’re watching their leaders say they don’t matter, they don’t count. The president of the United States’ tweet is, “We ought to go back to what was said on Election Night and stop the count right now.” Nevermind we know that there are tens of thousands of votes right now in my state that are still deserving of a full count. Not talking about a recount. I’m talking about to be counted in the first place.
To help people gain more faith in the system, what reforms do you feel are most urgently needed?
Well, for one, the timelines that we have put into place. They were supposed to complete a hand recount for the entire state, where over 8 million people went out and voted, and they’re supposed to have that done two and a half days after the machine recount is completed? It’s an arbitrary timeline, but it’s one that the system has allowed to exist, because they don’t really want much change to happen there. They haven’t set up a feasible system around counting every vote. Then they use these arbitrary timelines to put pressure on everybody, that if it goes on too long something nefarious must be going on, because a county that is more than the size of 30 counties combined in this state wasn’t able to meet that arbitrary deadline in the first place. If we really mean that people’s votes are to be counted, the timelines ought to exist around what it takes to count every vote.
Speaking of that, I saw that there were a lot of people who were affected by Hurricane Michael, whose votes may not have been counted or submitted. What do you know about that? Those come from an apparently very strongly Republican area.
We were supportive of some of those changes that allow for superprecincts to be created and for extending the number of days for early vote in those areas. But what appears to have happened is they also allow for people to vote by email and by fax. So, in one county, a more conservative part of this state, we’re taking votes that are cast over email. But in Broward County and in other parts of this state where people went through the diligence of completing their ballot in total, signing and affixing their signature to that ballot and putting it back in the mail, somebody made the judgment that the W in one signature and the W in the other didn’t match, and therefore the whole vote was thrown out. Are we serious?
There’s nothing right and fair about that. When you asked me about what changes need to happen, clearly this signature process. If you were in a court of law, one attorney couldn’t determine whether or not that is a right and accurate signature. You would have to bring in a signing expert before a judge and a jury and lawyers to determine whether or not somebody’s signature is right and accurate. But in this case, somebody in the Division of Elections not trained to make that judgment makes that judgment and a person’s democratic, constitutional right is then upended? That’s not right. I was looking at an ACLU report that talks about the fact that minorities are largely discriminated against in that whole signature-rejection process.
Should you lose, this would be the first time that you are out of elective office since your senior year of college.
Yeah [laughs]. Thanks for the reminder. I needed that. I appreciate it.
Not to bring the party down, but the point is—
Yeah, it’s always very present with me. I made that choice when I decided to run for governor, right? No guarantees. We knew that this race was worth staking everything on because the consequences are just far too great for everything that I care about.
And quite frankly, if I’m unsuccessful in this race — after a legitimate vote has been taken and after a legitimate count has been completed, and if I’m not the victor here — what I have said, certainly in this moment that we now find ourselves, is that one, I’m not leaving the field. But two, I think my mission and my work becomes a lot more clear, first and foremost around the work that has to be done to ensure our democracy. And that means counting every vote. Every legal vote that is cast being counted. I don’t know what form that takes, really. I haven’t been able to think long enough and hard enough about that. But I do know that I don’t want to see anybody legitimately have the excuse that they are not voting because their votes don’t count. That can’t happen. Whether I’m the one impacted by that vote or not. That can’t be the legacy of this election. I’m not gonna let that be the legacy of this election.
I want to ask you about the concession. I’m interested to know what went into your decision to concede and when did you realize that you needed to backtrack?
Well, I think it was that night, obviously. I had information presented to me around the number of votes that were outstanding, based off of what our staff had gathered, and that there was not enough to close the gap in my race. And who knows whether or not that will remain to be the case after every vote is counted. But on that evening, I did not want to have people holding on to an outcome that was not going to be possible, after I had been told that there were not enough votes out there to make a difference. Later, that next day, we heard that in Broward County we didn’t know how many votes were still uncounted. And after running a race in every part of this state, red areas, blue areas, purple areas, for everything that people went out there and did, the corners they stood on, the doors that they knocked, the voters that we engaged…
Just to put this in perspective, the normal midterm election in my state attracts about 6 million voters. A presidential [race] in the high-water mark attracts a little under 9 million voters. We had 8.2 million people vote for governor. We blew the top off of midterm election turnout. After understanding all of that, there was no way, in spite of how badly we wanted all of this to be resolved, that I could rest knowing that there were people out there who were not clear that their votes had been counted yet. There was no way that we could signal to those folks who voted, those folks who worked for this thing, that I was ready to be done with it and allow Republicans to get away with saying, “Oh, well, get him conceded and therefore we shouldn’t count any more votes.” I mean, that became the rhetoric — from the president. He quoted me conceding as justification as to why we ought to shut down the count. When that became clear to me, there was no way I could allow my actions to be a cover for people to be robbed of their opportunity to be counted.
On Election Night, did you have a concession call with Mr. DeSantis?
I spoke with Mr. DeSantis right before I went out onstage. I told him it appears that he may be the winner in this race. He responded to me and said that if that’s the case and I’m thinking about running for anything, please don’t choose to run against him again [laughs]. And we exchanged a laugh. And that was kinda of it. I mean, it almost blurs in my mind because it feels like so long ago. But that was the extent of the conversation that he and I had. And then through trading between our staff, we got word, obviously before I spoke again, that we were going to demand that every vote be counted.
I want to ask you about the disparity between the polls and the results. Did that catch you by surprise? I saw a poll I believe the day before the election that had you up seven points. How do you reconcile that?
First of all, I told all of our supporters at every turn, “Forget about the polls.” I told ’em the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. Look, I wouldn’t be the Democratic nominee for governor if I had waited on polls. Polls told one of my [primary] opponents that she was seven points ahead of me going into Election Day. The reason why people have to stay in the game to the very, very end is that we don’t know what these polls actually mean. The polls tell us something, but they don’t tell us everything. They don’t tell us how people are going to show up on Election Day. Many of these polls only looked at likely voters, and in a likely scenario, we would’ve had 6 million people voting. We had 8.2 million people vote for governor.
Say this doesn’t work out for you, the next Senate seat opens up in four years—
Oh, no. [laughs]
Are you thinking about running for elective office? What is in store for you? Have you allowed yourself to think about it?
I haven’t. Honestly, I have not considered another office. I certainly haven’t considered what it means to run in two years. My mind has been so fixed on this process and on the fact that there are people who are right now fighting to have their votes counted. That feels like the clarion call for me, more than anything. Too many people have seen these kinds of faults in the system. And because of how the election turned out for them, win or lose, they’ve chosen that they don’t have to fight any further to look ahead to the next one that comes after that. And the next candidate, and the next campaign, and the next eager volunteer, and the next unconvinced voter who is suspect of the process, who’s debating between whether or not they ought to go out and have their votes cast.
I don’t want to be that person who’s looking squarely at the shortcomings in the process right where I sit and then choose to walk away and do nothing. You know what? I’m not him. And so, if there’s a place for me to help figure that out, I’m probably going to sink my teeth into that part of fixing this thing, so that this isn’t the scenario for the next candidate and the next voter and the next organizer and the next volunteer who poured everything they had into something, only to have somebody interpret that because the signature ain’t right, that their vote is not counted.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.