It was a crazy weekend --- and that may be an understatement --- in St. Lucie County, Florida, as the fight continued over the questionable, completely unverified-by-humans, and extremely close computer-reported election results between Rep. Allen West (R) and Patrick Murphy (D) in the U.S. House race for Florida's 18th Congressional District.
Two things, if nothing else however, have become clear. 1) The Florida Democrats supporting the unverified computer-tallied results, which reportedly offer a slim margin in Murphy's favor, have become virtually indistinguishable from the Republicans who supported George W. Bush over Al Gore in the state during the 2000 Presidential Election debacle, and for the same, unjustifiable and partisan reasons. 2) Allen West has terrible and incompetent election attorneys.
Here's a recap of all that has happened --- and there has been quite a bit --- over the weekend, since we last covered the race on Friday, just after a St. Lucie Circuit Court judge denied West's motion demanding a retabulation of all eight days of Early Voting ballots in the county and just before the county's Canvassing Board took up the same issue shortly thereafter in what became a seven hour meeting of the board to determine how to proceed.
(And all of that in the wake of a previous partial retally of three out of eight days worth of early votes had resulted in the unexplained disappearance of some 800 votes when the same paper ballots were run through the same machines a second time due to unexplained "issues" with the electronic tabulation systems the first time around. That initial re-tally had resulted in a net gain of some 500 votes by West.)
The insane weekend events included a two-day machine "retabulation" of all Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie (one of three counties, along with Martin and Palm Beach, that make up FL-18); the discovery of more than 300 previously-untallied early ballots in the same county; new computer-reported tallies resulting in pick-ups by both candidates, for an overall gain of nearly 300 votes by the current leader Murphy; and a County Supervisor of Elections who ended up spending the weekend in the hospital...
Fighting for and against unverified partial 'retabulation' by faulty computers
As reported by Jonathan Mattise at WPTV on Saturday, Friday's marathon Canvassing Board meeting in St. Lucie --- during which the West campaign argued that all Early Voting ballots in the county should be re-tallied (by the same machines which already miscounted them at least once previously) and Murphy's campaign argued they would go to court to stop any additional re-tallies --- resulted in a 2 to 1 split decision by the Board.
The decision to retabulate all eight days of Early Voting ballots in the county --- including the three which had already been retabulated previously, due to the unexplained "issue" with the Diebold paper ballot optical-scan system's oft-failed Memory Cards during the first tally (we detailed the long history of failure of those cards here, after that initial re-tally a week ago Sunday --- was supported by two of the three Canvassing Board members.
Board member Kathryn Nelson, a 19th Judicial Circuit Court judge was the lone dissenter who had argued "we don't have the legal authority to do that." That decision came after Friday's court ruling earlier in the day by Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn who had denied West's court motion for the same thing, on the basis that only the local Canvassing Board had the authority to order such a "retabulation".
A "retabulation" of the sort that subsequently was done on Saturday and Sunday, may be carried out, according to Florida law, only "if there is suspected vote miscounting," reports Mattise.
Murphy's team had vowed to return to court to object to the "retabulation" on Friday, and they did so on Saturday, but their motion was rejected by the court, and the machine re-tally of all Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie proceeded late into the night. It was then picked up again early Sunday morning in hopes of meeting a noon deadline to report final tallies to the state.
During Friday's Canvassing Board meeting, it was also revealed that a box of 306 never-before tallied ballots had been discovered. Those ballots, presumably, were subsequently included in the weekend retabulation which did not include either absentee ballots or Election Day ballots for some reason. Though West's campaign had amended their complaint on Friday to include absentee ballots, though not Election Day ballots, the judge declined to entertain the last minute amended complaint.
Why West's team hadn't insisted on tallying those originally as well --- and calling for them all to be hand-counted, due to proven failures of the optical-scan systems to count ballots accurately (even though it is illegal to hand-count ballots in Florida after they've already been tallied by a machine, thanks to Republican-majority legislation following 2000) --- remains unknown. West's campaign has not responded to our queries on that point. But it all underscores the fact that West's attorneys are either attempting to play partisan ball themselves in asking for only certain ballots to be re-tallied, or they are clueless when it comes to the long history of failures by Florida's electronic voting systems as we detailed, for each of the three FL-18 counties, in our initial report on this debacle almost two weeks ago.
St. Lucie Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker, who has been under intense, and completely inappropriate attack by West and his supporters, was not at the marathon Canvassing Board meeting on Friday, nor at any of the weekend's retabulation sessions. She was reportedly admitted to a hospital on Friday, according to her attorney, for unexplained reasons.
Though, clearly, some of the counting had been botched by the machines (and it's unexplained why some 300 ballots hadn't been counted at all until now), the far Right West and his "Tea Party" supporters have been charging, without a shred of evidence to support it, that Walker and Democrats are attempting to "steal" the election.
On Sunday, one of West's top strategists, Chris LaCivita, leveled a particularly obnoxious attack, according to Politico. "Each day that Gertrude Walker and her collection of idiots continues to mismanage, misappropriate, and not do their job just provides us with more evidence to use in an election contest and makes it more likely that we will do that," LaCivita said.
During the Saturday/Sunday retabulation, which presumably included the newly discovered 306 ballots, Murphy picked up 274 votes and West gained 32, for an overall net gain by Murphy of 242. The strategy by West's attorneys to call for a re-tally of only Early Voting ballots, and only in St. Lucie, seems to have backfired on them.
Murphy's slim lead over West, which had been about 2,400 votes out of some 330,000 cast during the week after the election, then down to about 1,900 votes after the re-tally of three days of early voting a week ago Sunday, was increased back up to 2,100 votes after this weekend's retabulation of all Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie.
Before the weekend re-tally, West had been about 250 votes shy of the .5% margin that would have triggered a state-sponsored "recount". That margin has now increased slightly, instead of decreased, as the West campaign had hoped.
The final tally was to be delivered to the state by noon on Sunday, and St. Lucie election officials claim they made that deadline.
Both campaigns, however, are claiming that St. Lucie did not.
Murphy's campaign is arguing, in either case, that they are ahead in all counts to date, and that Florida law requires the last tally submitted before the noon deadline --- whether it's accurate or not --- must represent the official results of the race.
"Twelve o'oclock is the certification deadline," said Eric Johnson, senior adviser to the Murphy campaign, according to TCPalm on Sunday. "When that certification deadline passes, the last results posted are the official results."
On Sunday, West's campaign had not yet decided how they would proceed.
"We’re going to take a look at where things stand," West's campaign manager Tim Edson said. "If we believe the results are fair and accurate, we’re going to decide how to move forward. That decision has not been made."
By Monday, however, Edson was signaling that more court proceedings were yet to come.
"This election is far from over," Edson announced in his Monday statement, according to Reuters, calling the results "highly suspect."
"We will continue to fight on behalf of all voters in District 18 to ensure a fair and accurate count of their votes," he added.
Under Florida law, says Politico, West may file an election contest until November 30th. Most such contests, however, barring clear evidence of fraud or mistabulation that would be likely to change the results of the election, are routinely dismissed by judges. Unfortunately, since the ballots have all been tallied by electronic systems which record results in secret, and those systems themselves are proprietary and may not be examined by election officials, campaigns or the public, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to offer such evidence one way or another in court.
Since West's attorney had not even attempted to ask for a public hand-count of all ballots, or any ballots at all in either Palm Beach or Martin --- the only way that one could know for certain what the results actually were (presuming the chain of custody for ballots had been secure and well-documented since Election Night), is with a hand-count of all paper ballots --- it's difficult to imagine what they will argue for in an election contest, and on what basis they will argue for it if they decide to file.
At WPTV today, James Kirley reports that while Murphy continues to declare himself the "winner", attorneys who had volunteered for the West campaign, but who do not represent them officially, had "petitioned Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to recount every vote cast in the District 18 race."
Moreover, a local resident who appears to be a Republican Party operative involved with dirty tricks in the past, "has petitioned Detzner," who was hand-picked for the job earlier this year by the state's very partisan Republican Gov. Rick Scott, "for a recount of all St. Lucie County ballots."
Depends on Whose Ox is 'Gored'
Finally, one quick test for you, courtesy of some quotes posted by George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post today, highlighting his largely correct point that "Every close and disputed election has its own unique set of facts, but all have two things in common: the candidate who’s behind wants to keep counting votes and the candidate who’s ahead wants the counting to stop."
While that's a bit of an over generalization and necessarily the case in every close election, it certainly is in most, and most definitely has been the unfortunate case, as we've noted during our coverage, during the FL-18 debacle.
One of the following comments is from West himself last Monday, the other is from Al Gore during Florida's eventually-aborted 2000 recount. Can you tell who said which one?
a) "It’s not about me. It’s about assuring these people that they have a fair electoral process. … If people start to lose their trust and confidence in their vote, that’s the beginning of the end of a republic."
b) "It is important for the integrity of our democracy to make sure that every vote is counted. Especially in a close election because the foundation of our constitutional self-government is the consent of the governed."
One of these quotes is from Murphy spokesperson Erin Moffet on Saturday, the other is from James Baker, the head of George W. Bush's legal team in 2000. Which one said which?
c) "The votes were counted on Election Day, recounted...and this would be the third time many of these votes have been counted...You can’t keep counting until you get the answer you like."
d) "The vote...has been counted and then recounted. [He] was the winner of the vote. He was also the winner of the recount...[The other campaign wants to] keep recounting until it likes the result."
Finally, one of these is from Baker in 2000 again, the other is from Murphy's attorney Sean Domnick last Friday:
e) "I can certainly understand the pain and the frustration of losing an election so very, very narrowly. But it is time to honor the will of the people. … For the healing and uniting and governing to begin, this election must be brought to a conclusion."
f) "It’s kind of like a football game ... There are rules that have to be followed. The fact that someone lost 21-19, however heartbreaking that might be, doesn’t change the fact that it is a loss and that [he] lost this race."
[ANSWERS: (a) Al Gore (b) Allen West (c) Murphy spokesperson Erin Moffet (d) George W. Bush attorney James Baker (e) Baker (f) Murphy attorney Sean Domnick]
For more specific details on the disastrous records and long history of failure of the electronic voting and tabulation systems used in each of the three FL-18 counties, please see our first article on this post-election mess. For more details still, on the specific problem with the Diebold op-scan system and its memory cards in particular --- said to have been responsible for whatever led to the problem that required the first re-tally of three days of Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie --- see our second article on this disaster.