Gayle Harrell: St. Lucie County Elections ‘A Disaster’

By: Jim Turner | Posted: November 15, 2012 3:55 AM
Gayle Harrell and Gertrude Walker

Rep. Gayle Harrell and St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker

An election inspection team ordered by Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is on the ground in Fort Pierce as the city mayor’s contest has spawned the second lawsuit that questions the general election results in St. Lucie County.

The three-day audit by the state Division of Elections, spurred by state Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, adds to a scene already dominated by U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, disputing problems encountered during early voting by the county supervisor of elections office and further adds to Florida's history of voting problems that have earned national scorn since 2000.

The West camp, which will get a two-hour hearing Friday before St. Lucie County Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn on its lawsuit seeking a full recount of all eight days of early voting, is also criticizing Democrat Patrick Murphy for attending freshman orientation this week in Washington, D.C.

“I think it is premature of him,” West’s campaign manager Tim Edson told reporters Wednesday.

“I understand he would like to move on and wrap this up, but for someone who claims to be a certified public accountant, you would expect him to be a little more concerned about the shifting numbers and inaccuracies of these numbers.”

With protesters outside her office calling for a recount and her resignation, longtime St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker admitted to Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers on Tuesday that "mistakes were made" Election Night as workers hastily uploaded results from the final three days of early voting.

"I'm not perfect, neither is my staff," Walker said. "People can make errors."

Walker added that she is “confident” the Saturday refeeding of the votes from the final three days of early voting into tabulating machines corrected any errors.

Harrell, who, as part of the National Foundation for Women Legislators in 2010, monitored elections in Iraq, said the election situation in St. Lucie County, the northern half of her district, experienced many problems and irregularities.

“There were votes that were not counted, there were votes that were doubly counted, there were machine failures, there was just chaos from the reports I’ve received,” Harrell said. “It got to the point where I thought it was absolutely necessary to have an investigation.”

Harrell has requested to be part of an ethics and elections committee that incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is putting together to consider reforms during the 2013 legislative session.

Three state employees from the Bureau of Voting Systems Certification are expected to remain in St. Lucie County through Sunday, examining the election process, including how the votes were tabulated and how the equipment operated, Secretary of State spokesman Chris Cate responded in an email.

Still, if any problems are found, it would be up to the county canvassing board to make corrections and further retabulations, Cate noted.

“Our advice to St. Lucie County was to make sure their unofficial returns were reported accurately, and to do so as soon as possible.”

The county must certify its results by Sunday, with Gov. Scott and two members of the state Cabinet sitting to certify the state results on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

Because of the problems in St. Lucie County, along with reports of long lines and delays in absentee ballot counting in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Gov. Rick Scott has directed Detzner to meet with county elections officials in order to restore “confidence” in Florida’s voting process.

West, who has yet to make any concession, has called a recounting of just the final three days of early voting -- 16,275 ballots -- a “sham” and filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Walker and Detzner, demanding that all eight days of early voting -- 37,379 ballots -- be recounted.

The re-feed reduced Democrat Patrick Murphy’s Election Night victory by 535 votes to a 1,907 vote margin, a 0.58 percent margin in Murphy’s favor.

Murphy’s attorney Sean Domnick told the Palm Beach Post that Sunday’s partial recount should be deemed sufficient.

“There is no reason to doubt the veracity of the other votes, the process that was there,” Domnick told the Post.  “If there was, these folks (the St. Lucie County canvassing board) would have looked at those other days.

“I am absolutely comfortable that the canvassing board looked at what their responsibility was, fulfilled their responsibility and Patrick Murphy is the winner.”

Walker contends she doesn’t have the authority to order a recount, as state law limits recounts to contests where there is a margin of victory of less than 0.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Fort Pierce mayoral candidate Vince Gaskin also has taken the county to court. He sought to block a recount that started Wednesday morning.

Gaskin wanted the ballots and machines impounded after the Saturday re-feed of three days of voting flipped his apparent 21-vote victory into a 61-vote defeat.

While Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers reported that elections officials “discovered some discrepancies” during the all-day recount, there weren't enough for officials to overturn Linda Hudson's victory over Gaskin. 

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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