Florida just can't seem to count votes properly. After the embarrassing "hanging chad" debacle of the 2000 presidential election, similar games are now being played in the contest between Republican Rep. Allen West and Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy over the 18th Congressional District seat. Mr. Murphy claims 160,328 votes to Mr. West's 157,872, but the GOP is questioning the integrity of the vote count, particularly in St. Lucie County.
On election night, Mr. West had maintained a district-wide lead of nearly 2,000 votes until the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections inexplicably "recounted" thousands of early ballots, resulting in an awfully convenient 4,400-vote shift in favor of the challenger. Observers on the scene charged incompetence, intimidation and possible fraud on the part of local election officials. Mr. West has asked a judge to impound the ballots and order a recount to set things straight.
Lawyers for the West campaign have been overseeing the process at the Riviera Beach vote tabulation center, and they told The Washington Times that they're concerned about what they have been seeing. Temporary workers are helping the local staff oversee the count of absentee ballots, those damaged by voting machines and ballots in which the three pages have become separated. They are making new ballots to replace the damaged ones, and are required to mark them with the same votes. Florida law allows observers to be present during this process, however, election officials are effectively denying poll watchers an opportunity to keep tabs on what's going on.
The local bureaucrats erected a physical barrier making it impossible for the observers to see the counting process. After repeated objections, observers were allowed to stand behind the people reproducing the ballots, but then the ballot workers blocked their view. The Republicans had no way to verify whether ballots were being accurately reproduced because they couldn't see what was happening. In fact, an elderly man who stood up to try to get a better look was ordered to sit down. When he asked why, elections supervisor Susan Bucher called a sheriff's deputy to have him escorted out of the building. Team West volunteer Ellen Snyder has also faced the wrath of the supervisory staff. "They screamed at me twice," she said, because she asked questions. They threatened to have her removed as well.
Mrs. Bucher, a hyperpartisan Democrat, has infuriated the GOP. When responding to a court order to open polls to early voters on the Sunday before the election, she only informed local Democrats, not Republicans. During the week she told Republican observers that counting has ceased and they did not have to show up. Observers who came anyway saw the count continuing. On Friday, she ordered ballot workers to reproduce some ballots that were already reproduced and would not explain why.
The tactics being employed in the Sunshine State undermine the credibility of the final result. It's hard to see how anything legitimate could come out of such a tainted counting procedure. It will be up to the State of Florida, or the House of Representatives, to determine who truly won the right to represent Floridians in the 18th District.
The Washington Times
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