West-Murphy update: Judge sets hearing, Division of Elections official arrivesby George Bennett | November 14th, 2012
FORT PIERCE – A St. Lucie County circuit judge has scheduled a two-hour hearing for Friday on Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West’s request for a recount of all 37,379 ballots cast during early voting in St. Lucie County in his tight reelection fight against Democrat Patrick Murphy.
Murphy holds a 0.58 percent lead over West in unofficial returns from congressional District 18, which includes St. Lucie and Martin counties and northern Palm Beach County.
West has not conceded, citing errors in St. Lucie County’s initial early vote tally that prompted Secretary of State Ken Detzner to send three officials to Fort Pierce today to observe and report on the St. Lucie County elections office.
St. Lucie County Elections Supervisor Gertrude Walker said her office double-counted some early ballots and failed to count others on election night. But Walker said the problem was limited to ballots from three of the eight days of early voting and was fixed Sunday during a recount of those votes.
West says a full recount of ballots from all eight days of early voting is needed to eliminate any doubts about St. Lucie County’s totals. West’s motion for injunctive relief asks Judge Dan Vaughn to order a full recount of early votes and bar the county from certifying results until the recount is complete. Vaughn set a hearing on the motion for 1 p.m. Friday.
Counties must file certified results with the state by noon Sunday. The state’s Election Canvassing Commission gives final certification to to all results on Tuesday.
Detzner sent three officials to St. Lucie County to observe and make recommendations. David Drury, head of the Division of Elections Bureau of Voting Systems Certifications, arrived late in the afternoon and spoke to Walker while elections workers conducted a recount for the Fort Pierce mayor’s race.
In that race, Vince Gaskin was the narrow leader before Sunday’s partial recount with 6,703 votes to 6,682 votes for Linda Hudson. But after Sunday’s recount, Hudson gained 233 votes and Gaskin picked up 151 votes and Hudson became the new leader by 0.44 percent.
While a total of 448 new votes appeared in that race after Sunday’s partial recount, a total of 799 votes disappeared from the West-Murphy race during the same recount. Murphy lost 667 votes and West 132, for a net gain of 535 votes for West that reduced Murphy’s overall margin to 1,907 votes or 0.58 percent.
A race must be within 0.5 percent to trigger a recount under state law. But state law also allows a county to conduct a “retabulation” of votes if it “determines that the unofficial returns may contain a counting error in which the vote tabulation system failed to count votes that were properly marked.”
West’s camp argues the errors that came to light in Sunday’s partial recount justify a full recount or retabulation.
“What we’re seeking is the truth of what the actual vote count is,” West attorney Jason Torchinsky said on a conference call with reporters today. “And given all these inconsistent and constantly changing numbers, we have no confidence in the numbers that are being reported by St. Lucie County right now.”
But Murphy attorney Sean Domnick said there’s no reason to go beyond Sunday’s partial recount.
“There is no reason to doubt the veracity of the other votes, the process that was there. If there was, these folks (the St. Lucie County canvassing board) would have looked at those other days,” Domnick said. “I am absolutely comfortable that the canvassing board looked at what their responsibility was, fulfilled their responsibility and Patrick Murphy is the winner.”