A three-judge panel appeared skeptical Thursday of state Rep. Mack Bernard’s appeal of a lower court decision affirming his Democratic opponent Jeff Clemens as the winner in a Palm Beach County state senate race.
Bernard appealed Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling that the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board was correct in rejecting 40 ballots in the District 27 race that Clemens won by 17 votes.
The canvassing board rejected the ballots because the signatures did not match the voters’ official signatures in the voter registration file, indicating they may have been fraudulent.
Representing Bernard, former state Rep. J.C. Planas argued during a hearing before the 1st District Court of Appeal on Thursday that Lewis should looked beyond just the signatures to determine whether the ballots were valid. Lewis rejected Planas’ request to introduce affidavits of the voters, many of whom are Haitian-American. Planas also said Thursday Lewis should have looked at the entire voter registration forms to determine whether the writing on the absentee ballots was made by the same person.
And, Planas argued, Lewis should have examined the ballots the canvassing board accepted as well as the ones they rejected to ensure that they were consistent.
But the three judges appeared unconvinced, saying that a new Florida law passed last year severely restricted Lewis’s ability to examine anything other than the signatures on the ballots and the signature in the voter registration file. The law was intended to limit protracted legal challenges over absentee ballots in elections.
“It’s almost like you’re asking us to rewrite the statute,” Judge Nikki Ann Clark said shortly after oral arguments began.