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.