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Nancy Smith

St. Lucie County Recount's a Must, but Put Away Your Conspiracy Theories

November 15, 2012 - 6:00pm

As bad as the vote-count went in St. Lucie County, I think it's safe to say Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker is no serial screw-up like Susan Bucher.

Walker and Palm Beach County elections supervisor, Bucher, have the same job and belong to the same party. Both have been accused of either treachery or bone incompetence by Republican Congressman Allen West. West claims they so severely gummed up the general election results in their counties that the wrong man -- Democrat Patrick Murphy -- won the Congressional District 18 seat.

The similarities between the two women end there.

Bucher, 54, is a political animal. Head to toe, back to front. Sheserved as the District 88 representative in the Florida House of Representatives, first elected in 2000. There she stayed until she was term-limited out in 2008 -- when she immediately ran for, and won, the office of Palm Beach County supervisor of elections.

Walker, on the other hand, is a career electioneer who at 63 just won her ninth term in office. The woman had more creds than most supervisors of elections do now when she first was elected in 1980: She had worked in the office for 12 years before she decided to run for her first election.

Bucher, who came to Florida from California in 1985, hangs and huddles with local politicians and by all accounts, is attracted to the spotlight -- at least when it's not shining on her election clunkers.

Walker is a St. Lucie County native, a career public servant rather than a career politician. As I recall, she shuns publicity. In fact, few St. Lucie folks who come from somewhere else realize that she is also an artist, as is her husband. Her brother is Livingstone Roberts, one of the original "Highwaymen," and her childhood was spent in the company of other Highwaymen -- Alfred Hair and Harold Newton, for example -- who regularly gathered to paint at her grandmother's house.

In a rare interview, in 2009, Gertrude Walker discussed the choices in her life with Associate Editor Anthony Westbury of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. Back in the '60s, she recalled, "It was very difficult for African-Americans to make money. Our only options were the groves or the tomato fields. We'd get up at 3 a.m. on weekends to catch the bus to pick tomatoes out at Devil's Garden. If you were really good, you could make $10 a day, but more likely it was only $8."

In the mid-1990s, Walker was among the first to bring optical scanning machines into a supervisor of elections office. They were state of the art at that time. I remember that in the 1996 election, St. Lucie was the first county in the state to report its results. Perfectly done, too. Not a hitch. In fact, after a disastrous 2002 primary in Broward County, when Gov. Jeb Bush suspended Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant for egregious tabulating errors, Walker was pressed into service three counties away, to help straighten out the mess. She was hailed as a hero.

Not that everybody loves Walker. She made local news about five years ago as one of St. Lucie's two double-dippers. In fact, she is a triple-dipper. She took advantage of the 1998 Deferred Retirement Option Program, receiving a monthly retirement check of $6,032, an annual salary of $110,086 and a lump-sum payout of $138,447.

As time went on and state voting law changed, Walker's handling of elections wasn't letter perfect. In fact, this year during the primary, the office's website was slow and confusing, causing frustration for candidates and the public. She brought in $30,000 worth of software to cure its ills. But Walker's performance was never suspect. It didn't rob voters of their votes, it didn't threaten to elect the wrong candidate. The 2012 election was the first.

I'm not going to make any excuse for Walker. The mistakes made in St Lucie County have been embarrassing, costly and heartbreaking for the candidates involved and their families. But it is impossible for me to imagine, as some have suggested, that Gertrude Walker would manipulate the voting process or violate the public trust.

The general election went horribly wrong, I believe there should be a full recount because it's such a mess, but I also believe that in St. Lucie County what transpired was entirely unintentional.

I wish I could say the same for Palm Beach County. I have no idea there.

In 2012, Susan Bucher has more to worry about than Allen West. Herscandal involves allegations of improper vote tabulations, abuse of election observers, and interfering with ballots. Nor do her numbers add up. And Bucher has had snafus -- some of them major -- in every election since she won the job in 2008.

I hope, I believe, the court will rule to recount the West-Murphy race. That's the only way voters will ever know for sure that the integrity of the voting process is preserved.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

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