On Sunday, election officials in St. Lucie County, Florida re-tallied votes from the last three days of Early Voting, citing what county officials described cryptically as "an issue with the memory cards that record the ballots when they're fed through the machines originally."
Among the races which saw a partial re-tally of paper ballots, as they were sent through the same optical-scan systems which scanned them the first time, was the contentious and very close U.S. House race in Florida's new 18th Congressional district. As The BRAD BLOG reported in detail late last week, Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy was said to have been leading Republican Rep. Allen West in the race by a very slim margin --- just .78% at the time --- after initial Election Day tallies in all three counties which comprise the new district. The extreme and often extremely controversial, far Rightwing West currently represents Florida's 22nd District, but is now running in the new, redistricted 18th.
Following Sunday's re-tally, both candidates reportedly lost votes. West lost 132 votes while Murphy lost an extraordinary 667, for an overall pickup by West of some 535 votes.
On Friday, Murphy was said to have been leading West --- whose attorneys have already been in court, unsuccessfully demanding that voting systems and paper ballots be immediately impounded --- by just 2,456 votes out of approximately 318,000 tallied at the time.
After Sunday's partial re-tally, Murphy is still said to be leading West, according to the Florida Division of Elections website, but by just 1,907 votes. The current .58% margin of difference puts West just barely outside of the .5% margin that would trigger an automatic "recount" (albeit by the same faulty machines) in the state of Florida.
In our report on Friday, supporting West's demand for a hand-count of all paper ballots in the race, we detailed the three different electronic tabulation systems used in each of the counties --- St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach --- which now comprise FL-18, and how each of those systems have a long track record for failure during elections, mistallies and the ability to be easily manipulated by both hackers and election insiders alike.
Following the partial re-tally on Sunday, West's attorneys and supporters were predictably outraged and claiming, without presenting any actual evidence to support them, that "liberals" and/or St. Lucie's Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker, a Democrat, was attempting to "steal" the race...
"What was originally viewed as dangerous incompetence on the part of Gertrude Walker now appears more and more like a willful attempt to steal the election for Patrick Murphy," West's campaign manager Tim Edson charged in a statement issued on Sunday. He called the partial re-tally a "sham".
FoxNews.com reports that a group calling itself "Revive America" is sending out emails asking for donations in support of a legal challenge by West. "Dear Patriot," Fox says the email begins "Conservative hero Allen West is in the midst of a brutal recount. … The liberals threw everything they had at him in this election and couldn't defeat him outright. So now they are trying to STEAL this election."
No evidence has been offered to support the charges of the election being stolen, however.
Nonetheless, the fact that the same machines tallied the same paper ballots completely differently than they did the first time around should be troubling for anybody, and is just another reason why The BRAD BLOG previously supported (and still does) West's call for a hand-count of paper ballots that can be overseen by the public to ensure both candidates --- and, more importantly, their supporters --- can know who actually won or lost the election.
NBC affiliate WPTV reports that the Sunday partial re-tally "reversed the lead in the race for mayor of Fort Pierce. Linda Hudson gained 233 votes, putting her ahead of Vince Gaskin, who gained 151 votes. That race remained close enough to trigger a recount, which is scheduled for Wednesday."
WPTV also reports that St. Lucie County Assistant Attorney Heather Young had explained on Sunday morning before the partial re-tally, that "There was an issue with the memory cards that record the ballots when they're fed through the machines originally."
Attempts by The BRAD BLOG to reach the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections office to find out exactly what that "issue" with the memory cards was, have not yet been successful. Our email to the office was not immediately returned and calls to the office on Monday morning were answered by a recorded message stating that we were calling "Outside of normal business hours and we are currently closed." Today is being observed as Veterans Day by many government agencies.
Young said that "The state has recommended — not just in St. Lucie County, but also in other counties where problems occurred with the memory cards — that ballots be recounted."
As we explained on Friday, St. Lucie uses the Diebold Accuvote OS paper ballot optical-scan system for most voters, and the 100% unverifiable Diebold Accuvote TSX touch-screen systems for disabled voters who wish to vote on them:
In cases such as the above, the only way to know for certain that the system recorded ballots accurately would be to hand-count the paper ballots. It's impossible to know whether the votes tallied by the 100% unverifiable touch-screen were recorded accurately.
Moreover, the Diebold systems have a long record of problems with their sensitive memory cards simply failing. The cards are used in each machine --- both op-scan and touch-screen --- to both define the ballot and to track results as the systems are used by voters throughout the day.
In November of 2007, we reported that Diebold (by then having re-named itself Premier, which has since had its assets purchased and split up by both ES&S, the nations largest voting machine company and Dominion Voting, a Canadian firm) "admitted that some of its 25,000 optical scan voting machines used in Florida and elsewhere across the nation may have a problem that causes memory card failures during elections."
In a follow-up later that month, we reported that "any state where Diebold's optical-scan voting machines are in use might be having the problem, and they may not have been made aware of it --- either by the company, or the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) which is mandated by law to be a 'clearinghouse' for such information." That follow-up report detailed that "Connecticut's voting machines, made by the same company, are being affected by the same problem."
Adding to concerns about Diebold's op-scan systems --- and underscoring the need for a public hand-count of all paper ballots in this race and, frankly, any others where these systems are still used (that would include some 34 states) --- is that fact that, as we reported in 2008 when the problem was discovered after the Presidential Election in Humboldt County, CA, many versions of the Diebold op-scan system contain a bug that can simply drop entire stacks of ballots from the tally without notice to system administrators, in such a way that it is unlikely the error would be discovered, even with a partial hand-audit of ballots following the election.
Perhaps more disturbing still, is that during the CA Secretary of State's investigation of the Humboldt incident, Diebold admitted that a bug in every version of its GEMS central tabulation software allows for audit log entries to be deleted in such a way that no sign of the manipulation would be left behind. Audit logs on such systems are meant to be a permanent record to track everything that the system does, so that if there are any questions about something the system may have done, or any concerns about inappropriate access to the system, they would be revealed by an examination of the audit logs.
That the Diebold systems allow all or partial logs to be manually deleted, it may be impossible to know if the machine either malfunctioned or was inappropriately accessed or manipulated.
So, while West's supporters have presented no evidence to support their charge that the election is being "stolen", and there is no indication that that is the case at this time, the fact is, such evidence, if it existed, could be easily "disappeared" by a knowledgeable hacker of the system.
Late Friday, a judge in Palm Beach County --- where West currently leads Murphy in the FL-18 race by just 185 votes, and where losing candidates were declared as "winners" in three different races by that county's Sequoia optical-scan systems earlier this year --- denied West's motion for injunctive relief [PDF], seeking to impound paper ballots and voting systems before the certification of the race was completed.
According to AP, Judge David Crow denied West's motion, ruling that "The law is clear: The manner and method of conducting an election, the process of recounting ballots, the process of contesting an election is specifically a legislative function."
In other words, West was premature in calling on the courts to take action. He may still contest the election in court, but only after it is finally certified by the state of the Florida. On Saturday, the race was certified in Florida, which has among the shortest deadlines in the nation, just six days, for canvassing and certifying elections. The partial re-tally took place on Sunday after officials had already certified the race.
West had filed a similar injunction in St. Lucie, though not in the more conservative Martin County where the Republican currently leads Murphy by more than 10,000 votes, according to the oft-failed, easily-manipulated ES&S optical-scan and touch-screen systems used in that county to tally votes.
In 2000, when Al Gore filed for recounts in the Presidential race in just four Florida counties, the state Supreme Court ruled that all counties, not just a selected few, would need to be re-tallied if such a count was to move forward. (The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently made certain that the count never happened.) If West is going to file an election contest, and demand a "recount", chances are that he'll have to demand one in all three of the counties that now make up FL-18.
Whether or not he'll be allowed a hand-count, however, is another question. Currently, Florida law makes it illegal to hand-count paper ballots once they have been tallied by a machine. If there is to be a "recount" in the FL-18 race, it is likely to be on the same failed machines that tallied the ballots --- incorrectly, as we now know from the partial re-tally in St. Lucie --- in the first place.
CORRECTION: The photograph of Patrick Murphy that we originally used with this story was of PA's former U.S. House Rep by the same name. We've now replaced it with the picture of the correct Patrick Murphy from Florida and regret the initial error.