Blog: Recount adds to Murphy’s lead in race; West still not satisfied

Nov 19, 2012

The following article was published in the Palm Beach Post on November 18, 2012:

Murphy declares victory when St. Lucie board misses noon deadline; West considers challenge

By Christine Stapleton

Patrick Murphy’s campaign declared victory Sunday afternoon after recount totals showed him defeating U.S. Rep. Allen West by 2,146 votes, while West’s team refused to concede and contemplated its next challenge to the results in the District 18 congressional race.

“It’s time for Allen West to do the right thing and concede,” said Eric Johnson, Murphy’s senior adviser. West, however, has no such plans.

“As usual, Murphy’s people are full of garbage,” said Tim Edson, West’s campaign manager. “This is something the secretary of state and governor will have to sort out.”

The win came at 12:01 p.m., when Johnson told Murphy supporters and the media that the St. Lucie County Canvassing Board had missed its noon deadline to file results to the state Division of Elections.

The results from one precinct could not be fully uploaded during the recount, said St. Lucie County Commissioner Tod Mowery, a canvassing board member. Even though the data were manually entered and the rest of the results were sent to state officials, the board could not certify the results because of the problems with the single cartridge.

Under Florida law, the certified unofficial results submitted a week ago Sunday stand when the certified results do not arrive on time. Those results have Murphy, a Democrat, winning by 0.58 percent. A spread of less than 0.50 percent would have triggered an automatic recount.

Preliminary numbers released around 2 p.m. by the St. Lucie County board showed Murphy with an even greater lead, with 65,841 votes to West’s 52,704. When those results are added to the final tallies in Martin and Palm Beach counties, Murphy’s lead increased to 0.65 percent.

West’s options are limited. Shortly after noon, his legal team began discussing an emergency exemption in the law that permits final returns to be filed after the deadline. That exemption defines emergency as any occurrence “that results or may result in substantial injury or harm to the population or substantial damage to or loss of property to the extent it will prohibit an election officer’s ability to conduct a safe and orderly election.”

West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, also could challenge the official results using a rarely used law that allows the loser to contest the final results after all the ballots have been certified. Under that law, unsuccessful candidates or taxpayers living in the district can challenge the results by filing a legal complaint by Nov. 30 — that is, within 10 days of the final certification, which will happen Tuesday.

The complaint, called an election contest, can be filed only under several strict conditions: misconduct, fraud, bribery or corruption by an election official; the winner is not eligible for office; illegal votes or rejection of enough legal votes to change or create doubt in the results. West’s legal team declined to say whether an election contest would be filed.

“Since Election Day, we have been working for a fair and accurate accounting of the election outcome in which voters can put their full trust,” West said in a statement. “We will review the results of today’s recount and the other available data to determine how to proceed.”

West supporters, upon learning the consequences of missing the deadline, crowded into the area in the vacant shopping center where the ballots were counted, shouting, “Count our vote!” Others shouted questions to elections officials, blaming them for ending the recount of all early ballots that had started at 9:40 a.m. Saturday at 10 that night because the center’s security system would be triggered if anyone stayed in the building any longer.

Edson had his own questions. Among them: Preliminary totals showed 900 voters cast ballots in Precinct 93, where only seven voters are registered, Edson said. Another lingering concern is the West team’s request to view the poll sign-in sheets from Election Day. Edson said they had received some sign-in sheets from Palm Beach County but none from St. Lucie County. West’s campaign wants to compare the number of signatures on the poll sign-in sheets to the computer tabulations.

“Today’s actions cast an even greater cloud of suspicion over the results of St. Lucie County than existed before,” Edson said in a statement. “This election is far from over.”

Noticeably absent Sunday was Gertrude Walker, the St. Lucie County supervisor of elections. Walker was hospitalized last week amid legal wrangling over whether the ballots should be recounted.

The race grabbed national headlines for its harsh attack ads and the amount of money spent. West raised more than $17 million, more than any other House member this year except Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. Murphy raised about $4 million, one of the top figures for any Democratic House challenger this year. A variety of outside groups spent about $7 million.

The race began spinning out of control when a slight West lead on election night became a small Murphy lead as ballots were tallied. A printing error on Palm Beach County ballots prevented more than 27,000 from being read by tabulation machines. To right the problem, election workers hand-copied the results on those ballots. Meanwhile, West’s attorneys went to court and asked a judge to impound all ballots and tabulating machines. A judge denied it and ballot-copying ended at 4:45 a.m. Nov. 10 — about five hours before unofficial certified results were due.

The next day, St. Lucie County election officials began retabulating 16,275 ballots cast during the last three days of early voting because machines had been unable to read some of the electronic memory cartridges. West’s attorney went to court again, asking for a recount of all early ballots after the elections office admitted double-counting some ballots and ignoring others on election night.

A judge denied that request Friday but noted that the canvassing board would meet that day to discuss a recount. When election officials revealed that 306 ballots had gone unaccounted for, West supporters became angry. A divided canvassing board voted to recount all 37,379 early ballots cast. After work ended late Saturday, the counting resumed at 8 a.m. Sunday under the watchful eyes of dozens of West supporters.

The St. Lucie County board did not release any results but merely read aloud the final count for West and Murphy. It was the only county that had not certified its results as of late Sunday.

Murphy looked happy and relaxed at his Palm Beach Gardens office Sunday afternoon. He did not attend any of the court hearings or recounts. He had spent Saturday looking for apartments in Washington. As for a concession from West, Murphy is not expecting one. Although he is convinced the election is over, “you never know with Allen West,” he said.

Murphy said the campaign has convinced him of the need for election reform.

“Only good sign is money can’t buy elections,” Murphy said. “We were outspent 4-to-1 and we still won. Imagine what $22 million could have done for so many people.”

View the original article here: