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Democrat leads, West still fights at deadline for Florida recount
Challenger Murphy declares victory
Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy declared victory Sunday over Rep. Allen B. West after a partial recount this weekend showed him still leading by more than half a percentage point — though Mr. West is refusing to concede, and questions linger over how ballots were treated in one Florida county.
The deadline for localities to certify their results to the state passed at noon Sunday, and Mr. Murphy led in that first count. And by the time St. Lucie County officials finished a partial recount Sunday afternoon, hours after the deadline, Mr. Murphy's lead expanded by more than 200 votes.
"The congressman needs to come to grips with the reality that he lost," Anthony Kusich, Mr. Murphy's campaign manager, said in a statement that challenged Mr. West to give up. "No matter which results Allen West looks at, he's lost. This recount should once and for all lay to rest the false claims that West somehow was 'cheated' out of a seat in Congress."
But nearly two weeks after the election, Mr. West has not conceded, arguing that a series of bungles by St. Lucie County Elections Supervisor Gertrude Walker has tarnished the count.
"Once again, Gertrude Walker has proven to be absolutely incapable of executing an accurate and fair election," West campaign manager Tim Edson said. "This election is far from over. We will continue to fight on behalf of all voters in District 18 to ensure a fair and accurate count of their votes."
Many in Florida's 18th Congressional District appear to agree with his contention that the vote was handled poorly.
"I think it's going to take a little bit of time to process all of this," said Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, an independent lawyer who has petitioned the secretary of state to conduct an investigation of the entire race and who argued for the recount before the St. Lucie canvassing board.
"There have been so many problems and so many concerns," he said. "I think they did a great job in trying to convey transparency to the public finally, but in terms of the way things ran, in terms of operations, there are just so many questions."
Mr. Shapiro hasn't received a response to his petition with Secretary of State Ken Detzner, though Mr. Detzner did deploy several auditors to St. Lucie to look into the vote counting there.
Mr. West's quest to push for a recount has drawn keen interest from some national Republicans, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who last week called for a full recount of the early votes. The U.S. House and the National Republican Congressional Committee deployed attorneys to watch this weekend's vote counting, as did labor unions.
Mr. West and Mr. Murphy have used the situation to try to raise money, saying they are gearing up for what could be a protracted legal battle.
That battle began last week, with Mr. West first seeking a Florida court's order to force a recount. The judge denied that request Friday, but hours later, the St. Lucie canvassing board voted 2-1 to conduct one anyway.
Mr. Murphy's attorney then went to court to try to stop that, but the judge rejected the Democratic challenger's request.
The canvassing board worked through Saturday evening, stopped at about 11 p.m., then resumed Sunday.
But they had not finished by noon Sunday, which was the deadline under Florida law for localities to certify results. According to the law, if a recount hadn't been completed, they were required to certify the previous results.
Either way, Mr. Murphy appears to be leading — by 1,907 votes in the count before this weekend, and by 2,146 votes in the latest count.
There were several problems with St. Lucie's counting of early votes.
Computers were having problems on election night, and a box of ballots had been left in an office and not immediately tabulated.
Several days later Ms. Walker, the elections supervisor, agreed to do a recount, but rechecked ballots only from three of the eight days of early voting, arguing that those were the only ones where there was a problem.
The result of that partial recount was that Mr. West picked up about 500 votes — though that didn't tally with the number of ballots election officials said were in question, which raised more concerns.
Late last week, after the court denied Mr. West's petition for a full recount, elections officials found a box with several hundred uncounted ballots, according to local news reports. That was part of the impetus for their agreement to the full recount of early votes.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, will convene a statewide panel to certify election results Tuesday.
Mr. West does have 10 days after that to contest the results.
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