FORT PIERCE — Numbers changed, but results stayed the same when a Sunday 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 in the U.S. House District 18 race.
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.
And tempers did not improve when, moments after the county's Canvassing Board voted to accept the results, a St. Lucie County sheriff's deputy stepped forward and ordered everybody but elections officials out of the building. No one was arrested, but voices were raised and pointed questions shouted from public observers before they were ushered from the room.
Walker was nowhere to be seen, 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.
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.
"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 said in a prepared statement.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.
Sunday's recount also 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.
St. Lucie County Assistant Attorney Heather 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 substantively.'
"As the court said," Domnick added, "(Crow) was being asked to legislate from the bench, rather than to interpret the law. That's why the court rejected Mr. West's efforts."
West's campaign has filed a similar motion in St. Lucie County, Domnick said.
Bill Paterson, chairman of the St. Lucie County Republican Party, said he was "absolutely not" satisfied with Sunday's recount.
"We were told, and summoned here, for a full recount of all the early voting," Paterson said. "We got a sampling of what (Walker) thought would be sufficient for her, certainly not for us."
Paterson said voting numbers still don't jibe after Sunday's recount.
"We're going to have to, hopefully, pursue our appellate remedies," he said.
Paterson said he was unable to speak with Walker immediately after
"Unfortunately, Ms. Walker is no longer speaking to me," Paterson said. "She's retained counsel and I have to direct all my questions to the counsel."
Jeffery Scott Shapiro, a volunteer attorney with the West campaign, said he also could not speak with Walker or her staff after Sunday's recount.
"As you know, a sheriff's deputy ordered us to leave the building," Shapiro said. "There were several people who were asking questions about why they did not count all the early votes, as they said they would.
"But those questions were not answered," he said.