[Now UPDATED at bottom of story.]
A Circuit Court Judge in St. Lucie County today denied Florida's Republican Rep. Allen West's motion to order a re-tally of all Early Voting ballots in the county, after a partial re-tally of Early Votes last Sunday resulted in the disappearance of some 800 votes in the FL-18 U.S. House race between West and Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy.
It the second denial for West, a "Tea Party" favorite, in a Florida court room, where he had previously filed a motion to impound paper ballots and voting systems before all ballots had even yet been run through them.
Today, according to the Palm Beach Post, "Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn said he did not have the authority to issue an injunction ordering the recount."
"In denying West's motion," the paper said, "Vaughn noted the [St. Lucie County] canvassing board is considering the issue at a meeting this afternoon. The judge also said that West has other legal remedies - specifically mentioning a statute that allows a candidate to contest an election within 10 days of the final certification of results. That certification is scheduled for Tuesday."
Murphy's attorney argued in response that there was "no basis for a full recount of early votes and if the canvassing board orders a full recount of them, the Murphy campaign will go to court to try to block it."
"If the canvassing board were to decide that they want to do that without any evidentiary basis to do so, we'll be back before your honor with a motion for injunctive relief against them doing it because under the law the statute that we cited for your honor they have absolutely no right to do it," the Post quotes Murphy attorney Gerald Richman as arguing in court today.
No "evidentiary basis"? Really? A partial selection of ballots --- just the last three days of eight days of Early Voting --- are re-tallied by the same machines that tallied them originally, but give a completely different result the second time they are tallied and that isn't "evidentiary basis" for re-tallying all of the votes? If that isn't a basis for a full public hand-count of all ballots, I'm not sure what is. Unfortunately, without a court order, thanks to the state's Republican legislature following the 2000 Presidential Election debacle in that state, it's illegal to hand-count paper ballots once they've been tallied by an electronic machine.
[Update: See bottom of story for update on what happened at the canvassing board on Friday, and much more!]
I was on Thom Hartmann's TV show, The Big Picture, last night to discuss the FL-18 U.S. House mess where West currently trails Murphy by a very slim margin, according to oft-failed, easily-manipulated, paper ballot optical-scan computers made by three different private companies in the three different counties that make up Florida's newly redistricted 18th Congressional District.
As we've covered in detail here at The BRAD BLOG, a margin of some 2,400 votes out of some 330,000 votes tallied as of last Friday was dwindled down to just under 2,000 votes as of last Sunday when St. Lucie County --- one of the three, along with Martin and Palm Beach Counties, that make up FL-18 --- carried out a partial re-tally of Early Voting ballots due, they say, to an unexplained "issue" on the Diebold optical-scan systems used to tally those ballots in the county.
In the bargain, some 800 votes seem to have disappeared according to the new Diebold tally. Both candidates lost votes in that partial re-tally --- where they ran the same ballots through the same machines, which counted them differently this time than they did previously --- but West ended up gaining some 500 votes on Murphy in the bargain.
Nonetheless, at this time, West is still some 250 votes shy of a mandated state "recount" which is triggered when the margin is .5% or less. Currently, the margin is just eight one-hundredths of a percentage point shy of that mark, at .58%, with West having filed his court for an expanded re-tally of all Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie earlier this week. While his court motion had called for a full re-tally of all Early Votes in St. Lucie, the motion failed to request a re-tally of either Election Day votes, absentee ballots or any of the ballots in FL-18's other two counties, for unexplained reasons (the West campaign has not replied to our queries on that) as we also discussed on Hartmann's show...
West did file an amended complaint this morning before the hearing, seeking a re-tally of absentee ballots in St. Lucie as well, after the campaign claimed they had found "significant problems" with the records for some of those votes, charging that the number of absentee ballots in some precincts exceeds the number of voters listed as casting absentee ballots there...
There is no credible evidence, at this time, that either candidate or the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections office is attempting to "steal" the race, as both campaigns have now begun to argue. While West's campaign and his supporters have blatantly charged the election was being "stolen" (without presenting any evidence to back up that claim), Murphy and his Democratic supporters haven't been been much more helpful.
For example, FL Rep. and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz slammed Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott today, after his hand-picked Sec. of State Ken Detzner dispatched Division of Election inspectors to look into what may have gone wrong with the tabulation systems in St. Lucie.
"In a clear effort to overturn an election result after having lost at the ballot box, Allen West has now run to [Mr. Scott] to needlessly interfere with and politicize a non-partisan election process," Wasserman Schultz said, according to the Washington Times.
Another Florida Democratic Congressman, Rep. Alcee Hastings, echoed Wasserman Schultz, charging that Scott's actions were "yet another blatant display of his willingness to disregard the rule of law for political gain."
Look, far be it for us to defend the reprehensible Scott and Detzner --- or even the extremely controversial, far Rightwing West in any matter. The BRAD BLOG has been relentless over the past year in calling out both Scott and Detzner for their shameful, anti-American attempts to game this year's election by restricting voting and voter registration and trying to toss eligible voters off the rolls, resulting in even active-duty military voters getting purged. All while, the pair ignored actual, massive voter registration fraud carried out by the Republican Party of Florida itself (until it could no longer be ignored) and, recently, Scott, absurdly, assigned Detzner, of all people, to head up a "review" of all that went wrong this year in Florida's elections --- thanks, of course, mostly to Scott and Detzner themselves!
Nonetheless, given the disastrous way in which the tallying of ballots has so far played out in FL-18, where nobody --- no matter what they claim in either court, or the court of public opinion --- has any idea who actually won and who actually lost this race, thanks to the failed computer tabulation systems we've been warning about for nearly a decade --- it's perfectly appropriate to dispatch members of the state Division of Elections to oversee the disaster still under way in St. Lucie County.
Democrats, it seems, are doing the very same thing that Republicans notoriously do when they come out ahead by a slim, and completely unverified margin on Election Night and then attempt to discredit Democrats for seeking a full, transparent count of ballots.
This is not about either Democrats or Republicans. This is about the voters. And they deserve to know, for certain, who has actually won or lost the race.
What we noted earlier this week in the conclusion of our previous piece on this very fine, if completely predictable, mess, is still true...
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".
If either West's supporters or Murphy's wish to truly settle this matter, they will each call for a full, public, transparent hand-count of all of the paper ballots cast in all three counties that make up FL-18. Then they just have to hope that a) the secure chain of custody for those paper ballots has been well-documented since Election Night and b) that the margin is larger than the number of ballots cast on the 100% unverifiable touch-screen systems used by disabled voters for accessible voting in the three counties, since it's impossible to ever know if even one of those votes was recorded as per any voter's intent.
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 a re-tally of three days of Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie --- see our second article on this disaster.
UPDATE 11/19/12: It was a wild, wild weekend in the FL-18 election debacle. Insane, in fact. The latest update, including details on St. Lucie County's seven hour Canvassing Board meeting on Friday, the discovery of 306 previously-untallied Early Voting ballots, two days of new "retabulation" over both Saturday and Sunday, the hospitalization of the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections and much more, is now posted here...