A court hearing has been set for Friday in St. Lucie County, Florida, to hear arguments by Republican Rep. Allen West, who is now seeking a recount of all Early Voting ballots cast in the county.
Over the weekend, some 800 votes simply appear to have vanished from the tally in Florida's 18th District razor-thin U.S. House race between West and his Democratic opponent Patrick Murphy (D), after an unexplained partial re-tally of ballots cast during the last three days of Florida's eight days of Early Voting in the county, one of three that make up the new FL-18.
With very good reason, West is demanding that all Early Voting ballots be re-tallied in St. Lucie, on the heels of the unexplained "issues" with memory cards in the Diebold electronic optical-scan tabulators that county officials cited vaguely as the reason for Sunday's partial re-tally.
Where the extreme and extremely controversial West and his supporters have claimed the election is being "stolen" on behalf of Murphy --- a claim for which we are aware of no actual evidence --- The BRAD BLOG has now twice reported in great detail (first here and then here) on the oft-failed, easily-manipulated electronic systems, made by three different companies, in each of the three different counties (St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach) that now constitute FL-18.
Why West has failed to demand a full hand-count of all ballots, in all three counties, as opposed to just the Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie, is a question that West's campaign has yet to resolve for us. Our queries to the campaign, to date, have gone unanswered.
Whether a hand-count, versus another machine count by the same faulty machines, is even allowable in Florida, remains to be seen, since the state's Republican-majority legislature, following the 2000 Presidential Election debacle in the state, insanely mandated that paper ballots, once tallied by a computer, could not be examined by hand.
A mandatory "recount" (a re-tally by the same machines) is required in Florida when the margin between the two top candidates is 0.5% or less. The margin in FL-18 is now just 249 votes shy of that threshold.
Given that 800 votes seem to have simply disappeared without explanation --- Murphy lost 667 and West lost 132 votes during Sunday's partial re-tally, decreasing Murphy's lead over West by 535 votes in a race where just 1,907 votes (out of some 330,000 votes cast), or 0.58%, now separate the two --- and given that the different tally occurred while re-scanning the very same ballots on the very same machines, it's almost beyond comprehension that both parties, at this point, aren't calling for a full, public hand-count of all paper ballots in all three counties in hopes of determining who really won and who really lost the race.
At this point, who knows if the machines were right the first time they tallied the same ballots, or the second time they tallied the same ballots, or, for that matter, either of the times they tallied the same ballots? Anybody else without a partisan dog in this hunt, other than us, beginning to see the problem here?...
According to Alexandra Jaffe at The Hill on Wednesday:
Though Democrat Patrick Murphy was ahead of West at last count by .58 percent, just above the .5 percent margin that would force a recount by Florida law, West has refused to concede.
He has now filed a complaint, along with eight early voters in the race, calling for an injunction ordering St. Lucie County supervisor of elections Gertrude Walker and Florida secretary of state Dan Detzner to fully recount all eight days of early voting in St. Lucie County.
West's campaign also alleged that "the County has violated both the Florida Open Meeting Law, Florida Sunshine Law and the Florida Constitution by meeting behind closed doors and without providing the required notice to the public."
George Bennett at Palm Beach Post reported the same day:
A copy of the filing wasn't immediately available.
"It stands to reason that if the remaining early votes were to be recounted, additional errors would be uncovered and the tabulation of votes revised accordingly," a statement from West's campaign said. "Until these remaining early ballots are recounted, however, the Canvassing Board has arbitrarily applied differing counting standards to similarly situated ballots. The erroneous decision of St. Lucie County to 're-feed' only some of the early votes cast in this election violates the Florida Constitution's guarantee of equal protection to voters."
And then, later that day, Bennett followed up again at the Post with these thoughts from FL's former Republican Sec. of State Kurt Browning:
"Being that she (St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker) has done a partial recount of ballots, how do you get away with doing a partial recount and not a total recount? The law doesn't make any provision for a partial recount. It's either all or nothing," Browning said.
Browning, who was Pasco County's elections supervisor from 1981 to 2007 and Florida secretary of state for five years after that, said it's unusual for a recount of optical-scan ballots to produce such a large change in vote totals - 667 lost votes for Murphy and 132 lost votes for West.
"If I were Allen West and my opponent lost 600-plus votes, I'd be a little steamed. Because how many votes would he lose if you did a full recount?" Browning said.
Today, West's campaign manager Tim Edson blasted Murphy for attending freshman orientation at the Capitol in D.C. While his protests on that point are unwarranted --- obviously, if Murphy should ultimately be declared the winner, the training for incoming Congress members will have been necessary and appropriate --- his main complaint was on point.
"I understand he would like to move on and wrap this up," Edson said, "but for someone who claims to be certified public accountant, you would expect him to be a little more concerned about the shifting numbers and the inaccuracies of these numbers."
"Allen West continues to drag us into a lengthy legal battle instead of just admitting he lost," said Anthony Kusich, Murphy’s campaign manager in a fundraising email to supporters today, according to The Hill. "It's clear he has no plans to stop."
The statement could have been issued by the George W. Bush Campaign in either 2000 or 2004 when similar questions about the secretly-counted and unverified results led Democrats, or at least some of them, to demand that all ballots be transparently hand-counted.
We've heard sentiments similar to Kusich's from a number of partisan Democrats over the past several days. Many, of course, were understandably delighted on Election Night when it appeared that West was set to lose. Perhaps he still will. But to those, like Kusich, insisting that they know that West lost, based on faulty machine tallies, or that he should stop seeking a transparent count, or that he is simply being a "sore-loser", we would ask: Would you feel the same way if it was Murphy who was down by just under 2,000 votes in a race with 360,000 ballots cast after electronic tabulation systems with a long history of failure just appear to have "lost" 800 votes without explanation when only a small fraction of the ballots cast in the race were re-tallied?
Nobody --- not Murphy, nor West, nor anybody else --- should want to serve under the dark cloud of suspicion that will inevitably be cast over such a race, unless a full, transparent, public hand-count of all ballots is now carried out.
It's a dark day in hell when we agree with so-called "Tea Partiers" who are now beginning to hold protest rallies outside the offices of St. Lucie County's Supervisor of Elections demanding that all ballots be counted.
Well then, this may be that dark day in hell --- or at least in Florida, or at least in the now-privatized world of our once-public elections in the United States.
There is good reason that West's supporters, or Murphy's for that matter, should have little reason for confidence in the computer-reported results of the race to date. Unfortunately, there is little more reason to have confidence in the reported results of any of the races tallied a week ago Tuesday --- either correctly or incorrectly, nobody actually knows for sure --- on the faulty, untransparent electronic voting and tabulation systems now used in all 50 states, and verified for accuracy by just about nobody.
This is what The BRAD BLOG has been warning about for nearly a decade, and will continue to do so, at least until this nation is smart enough to move to Democracy's Gold Standard: hand-marked paper ballots, publicly hand-counted at the precinct, on Election Night, in front of all parties and all video-cameras, with results posted at each precinct before ballots are moved anywhere.
Without that, there are sure to be many more West/Murphy clouds to come, as democracy continues to erode in a country that once regarded itself as the "World's Greatest Democracy".