FORT PIERCE -- Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is sending three representatives to St. Lucie County today to try to figure out how 799 votes disappeared in Sunday’s partial recount of the tight, nationally watched congressional race between Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West and Democrat Patrick Murphy.
“We are concerned whenever there is a question about the accuracy of results,” Detzner spokesman Chris Cate said Tuesday.
West, who trails Murphy by 1,907 votes or 0.58 percent in unofficial returns, has cited the problems with St. Lucie County’s counting of early votes in his refusal to concede the race.
West’s campaign filed a complaint in St. Lucie County Circuit Court on Tuesday asking a judge to order a recount of all 37,379 ballots cast in St. Lucie County during the eight-day early voting period. St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties make up congressional District 18.
West argues a full recount is justified because a partial recount on Sunday showed Murphy losing 667 votes and West losing 132 — a net gain of 535 votes for West.
Murphy’s lead remains larger than the 0.5 percent that triggers a recount under state law. But state law also empowers 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.”
During a press conference lasting more than an hour Tuesday, St. Lucie County Elections Supervisor Gertrude Walker acknowledged that errors were made in uploading results from the last three days of early voting but added that she believes those mistakes were corrected. “We are confident that every vote has been counted,” she said.
Walker would not commit to a full recount or re-tabulation of all the county’s early votes.
She told reporters that the county’s canvassing board followed state law by isolating when and where the ballot errors occurred and focusing on those specific votes.
“What the law requires is that the canvassing board correct the error” she said. “If they are able to isolate what the error is, that’s what they are supposed to retabulate. They’re not supposed to say ‘We’re going to do a recount of the entire county.’ ”
Walker has acknowledged since election night that her office had trouble uploading some electronic memory cartridges containing early ballots. But she said the cartridge problem was limited to ballots cast during the last three days of early voting and she insisted that revised results released by her office Sunday are accurate.
“I want to assure you that, whatever happened on election night in the haste to make sure we reported results, has been corrected and the actual votes cast were presented to you on Sunday,” she said Tuesday.
On Sunday, the county’s canvassing board recounted the 16,275 ballots from the last three days of early voting despite announcing earlier that it would recount all 37,379 ballots from all eight days of early voting.
Sunday’s partial recount revealed significant abnormalities. While Murphy and West lost a combined 799 votes, the two candidates for mayor of Fort Pierce gained a combined 484 votes.
In the Fort Pierce mayor’s race, Vince Gaskin was the narrow leader before Sunday’s exercise with 6,703 votes to 6,682 votes for Linda Hudson. But after Sunday’s recount or retabulation, Hudson gained 233 votes and Gaskin picked up 151 votes and Hudson became the new leader by 0.44 percent. That race is scheduled for a recount today.