FORT PIERCE — The top vote-getter in the race for city mayor reversed itself Sunday, when a recount of some early voting ballots gave Linda Hudson a slight edge over Vince Gaskin.
That 61-vote lead was slim enough to trigger an automatic recount, scheduled for Wednesday, in the nonpartisan race. State law requires a recount when opponents are less than 0.5 percent apart and Hudson's lead over Gaskin now stands at 0.44 percent.
Hudson said she left the office of Supervisor of Elections Getrude Walker thinking she was the winner, after Assistant County Attorney Heather Young announced her lead over Gaskin was greater than 0.5 percent.
Then, apparently owing to antipathy for controversial results in the race for District 18 U.S. House of Representatives, a St. Lucie County sheriff's deputy ordered everyone but elections officials out of the building.
"I did leave thinking I was the winner," Hudson said. "When they announced the results and the sheriff's deputy kicked us out, I left the building."
So Hudson was not present a short time later, when political observers were called back inside to hear Young apologize for mistaken arithmetic: It turned out the difference between Hudson and Gaskin mandated a recount after all.
"The machine recount will now happen on Wednesday," Hudson said. "We'll just wait and see."
Gaskin could not be reached Sunday afternoon. A person answering his phone said he would not comment until Wednesday.
In the District 18 congressional contest, numbers changed but results stayed the same.
Sunday's recount of ballots cast during three days of early voting in St. Lucie County still gave Democrat Patrick Murphy a lead over Republican Allen West.
Even before results were announced early in the afternoon, West partisans were crying foul. They were angry that St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker had recounted only three of eight days worth of early voting ballots.
Walker was nowhere to be seen after the recount, leaving unanswered questions about how many ballots were recounted and why her office focused only on ballots cast Nov. 1 through 3. West's campaign had called into question ballots cast on Oct. 27 through 29.
"The Supervisor and the Board continue their attempts to hide the facts and after today's events, their conduct and inconsistent behavior cast even more doubt on the St. Lucie County's election returns," the West campaign later stated in a news release.
Republican officials also want a full recount of all early votes, plus a comparison of total voter signatures from all polling places with the total ballots counted, to see whether the two numbers match.
District 18 spans St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties. When St. Lucie's new figures were taken together with unofficial figures from the two other counties, West still trailed Murphy by 0.57 percent. That is not enough to trigger an automatic recount under Florida law, which requires 0.5 percent or less difference.
Both West and Murphy lost St. Lucie County votes in Sunday's recount. Compared with earlier figures, West lost 132 and Murphy 667.
Young explained the reason for Sunday's recount before it began around 8 a.m.
"There was an issue with the memory cards that record the ballots when they're fed through the machines originally," Young said. "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."
Even before recount results were announced, the West campaign blasted both the process and Walker.
"What's going on today is a sham," said Tim Edson, West's campaign manager. "It does nothing to resolve our concerns."
Edson issued a news release late Sunday morning.
"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," it states. "West for Congress will pursue every legal means necessary to ensure a fair election, not only to ensure Gertrude Walker is held accountable, but also ultimately replaced, so the citizens of St. Lucie County will be ensured fair and accurate elections."
While West's supporters were out in force at Sunday morning's recount, campaign officials for unofficial District 18 Democratic winner Murphy also were present.
"We're here to observe the process," said Sean Domnick, attorney for the Murphy campaign, "to make sure that every valid vote that was cast is counted and that the laws are followed."
West's efforts to invalidate the ballot counting in Palm Beach County already suffered a setback Friday when Circuit Judge David Crow denied West's request for an injunction that would have impounded ballots and voting machines.
"There is some irony in the fact that (West), who is anti-lawyer and anti-lawsuits, is racing down to the courts and filing lawsuits that have been declared — I think the language of Judge Crow was 'grossly lacking, both procedurally and