U.S. Rep. Allen West is demanding a full hand recount in St. Lucie County after blasting its supervisor of elections for "disturbing irregularities" at polls and a late-night "recount" of votes that favored Patrick Murphy by a thin margin.
He also filed injunctions against the supervisors of elections in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties to impound their voting machines and paper ballots used in the District 18 election. Martin County Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis said her office wasn't included, however.
The lawsuits were filed in Palm Beach and St. Lucie county circuit courts.
West announced the legal action 10 hours after Murphy declared himself the District 18 winner, which MSNBC confirmed.
But Florida law only allows for recounts when a race is decided by a half percentage point or less. The margin in the West-Murphy matchup was razor thin, but not close enough to warrant a recount, according to Florida statutes.
St. Lucie Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker called West's request "unusual." She said every District 18 ballot remained sealed in a room Wednesday at her Fort Pierce office until a court decides about the recount. She said a recount would occur Saturday, if court ordered.
"I certainly feel that none of (the accusations) are valid," Walker said Wednesday. "I feel that the process went as it should have."
With 100 percent of precincts in, The Associated Press still has not declared a winner for District 18, spanning St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties. Murphy garnered 160,328 votes to West's 157,872. That's a difference of 2,456. Percentage-wise, that's 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent, or a 0.8 percent lead favoring Murphy.
If an election is won by 0.5 percent or less, it triggers an automatic recount. If the margin exceed 0.5 percent, State Division of Elections spokesman Kevin Cate said "there exists no statutory mechanism for a candidate, group or anyone else to have a recount done by the state or any supervisor of elections."
In one of Congress's tightest races — and, potentially, biggest upsets — St. Lucie County picked Murphy over West by an 11-percent margin, matching Democrats' 43-to-32-percent registration edge in the county. In northern Palm Beach, where Republicans hold a 2-point edge, Murphy and West split the vote, 50-50. Martin, the district's smallest county, went West's way by 14 percentage points.
"The voters have spoken, and Patrick looks forward to putting the campaign behind him and getting to work for the people of the Treasure Coast," Murphy campaign manager Anthony Kusich said Wednesday in response to West's accusations.
But West, a Palm Beach Gardens Republican who stormed into Congress on the 2010 Tea Party wave, isn't giving up. His campaign said Wednesday it would take legal action if Walker's office didn't perform a hand recount, "given the hostility and demonstrated incompetence of the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections."
Aside from a news release, West declined further comment through a spokeswoman. A news release said there are still "tens of thousands of absentee ballots to be counted in Palm Beach County and potential provisional ballots across the district," but did not specify additional issues with Palm Beach County.
A West news release said Walker's office locked the door to polling places, which Edson said was "in direct violation of Florida law, thereby preventing the public from witnessing the procedures used to tabulate results."
Walker said the Minsky Gym polling location in Port St. Lucie locked its doors after people got in line to vote at 7 p.m. More than 25 people arrived at the Minsky Gym after the polls closed and demanded to vote, but St. Lucie County sheriff's deputies eventually persuaded them to leave peacefully with no arrests or rioting, as was rumored, Sheriff Ken Mascara said. Walker said everyone in line by 7 p.m. voted.
Edson also described the supervisor's office on Tuesday night as "complete chaos."
Walker said elections work is chaotic everywhere. Elections officials had to manually rerun early voting results from four polls because the results on the voting machines' memory cards showed errors when downloaded Tuesday night. Walker dismissed Edson's claim that recounting ballots, which weren't properly counted the first time, could somehow change the vote.
Officials had changed the cards Thursday to prevent overloading them with the high number of early voters, according to Canvassing Board member and County Commissioner Tod Mowery.
"As far as the chaos part, I think that describes the election process regardless of where it's being conducted," Walker said. "I won't even respond to the incompetence. That's a very low blow."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee flipped West's accusations into a fundraising pitch, asking for at least $3 donations to "help gets boots on the ground and protect the vote."
An email Wednesday from the group read, "Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy has a decisive
lead — but West has a huge war chest ready to challenge the ballots of Florida voters. If we want to win this race, we have to act IMMEDIATELY to make sure every single vote is counted fairly and accurately."
-Staff writers Zaimarie De Guzman and Laurie K. Blandford contributed to this report.
All night Tuesday as election results came in the lead in the District 18 congressional race between Allen West and Patrick Murphy switched back and forth. Here is a look at the timeline from Managing Editor Mike Canan's Twitter feed using #tcvote.
7:53 p.m. Tuesday: Six precincts in Martin County report West has 24,720 votes to Murphy's 18,786 votes.
8:02 p.m.: West has 35,796 votes to Murphy's 44,251.
8:31 p.m.: Nearly 19 percent of precincts report West leads with 56,000 votes to Murphy's 54,387 votes.
8:44 p.m.: With nearly 25 percent of precincts reporting, West trails Murphy. Murphy has 98,638 votes to West's 91,796.
9:21 p.m.: Seventy percent of precincts report West leads Murphy 135,681 to 133,627.
9:48 p.m.: West leads Murphy 139,528 votes to 136,990, based on 84 percent of precincts reporting.
9:54 p.m.: Ninety-one percent of precincts report West leads Murphy 147,138 to 145,305.
11:25 p.m.: Ninety-six percent of precincts report West lead Murphy 152,648 to 151,217.
12:40 a.m. Wednesday: Murphy takes lead; 97.4 percent of precincts report 155,365 to West's 154,392.
1:40 a.m.: Murphy leads West 159,959 to 157,578. That's 50.37 percent to 49.63 percent.
1:42 a.m.: MSNBC calls District 18 race for Murphy.
1:43 a.m.: Murphy declares victory.
2 a.m.: 99 percent of precincts report Murphy has 159,959 votes to West's 157,578. That's 50.37% to 49.63%
5 a.m.: With 100 percent of precincts reporting, GOP Rep. Allen West trails his Democratic challenger by about 2,500 votes. The race still hasn't been called by the Associated Press, however.
11:22 a.m.: West demands a recount in St. Lucie County.
Staff writer Laurie K. Blandford contributed to this report.