Election officials in St. Lucie County will recount early votes cast in the hotly contested race for Florida’s 18th district’s House seat between Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West and his challenger, Democrat Patrick Murphy.
The St. Lucie County Canvassing Board announced late Saturday it had set an “emergency meeting” to start at 7 a.m. Sunday at its headquarters, to “recount all ballots cast during early voting.” The number of early ballots is estimated by officials to be roughly 37,000.
West, who has refused to concede the race, is currently trailing Murphy by 2,442 votes, according to the latest results from Florida Division of Elections. On its website, the agency says West has garnered 164,448 votes to Murphy’s 166,890.
“There are possible irregularities in St. Lucie County,” claims Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, a Florida lawyer volunteering for the West campaign who has been quoted on the issue. “On Sunday we’ll have a chance to recount the early votes and that’s a good start to preserving the integrity of the democratic process.”
West’s campaign said in a Saturday statement it was pleased with the news of the partial recount.
“This decision should help shed light on the situation of this election,” the statement said. “This is the action we were seeking to ensure the results of this election were fair and accurate.”
West’s campaign had said earlier Saturday that issues with the voting in St. Lucie County meant the race was still undecided.
“Late on Election Night, Congressman West led by 1,700 votes,” West for Congress said in a statement. “Following the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections’ decision to recount thousands of early ballots after a technical glitch, the margin shifted by 4,000. In order to ensure that votes were not doubled counted, we have requested that the St. Lucie Supervisor of Elections make public the poll check-in books to ensure the numbers of ballots cast matches the numbers of voters checked-in at the polls.”
The state tally is complete but still unofficial. There are still a handful of overseas and military ballots outstanding.
But under Florida law, recounts are based on Saturday’s results. Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy won enough votes to avoid an automatic recount.
West, a first-term Congressman, is a Tea Party favorite known for his strong criticism of President Obama and other Democrats.
Even if the results of the partial recount do not change the race, West still has the option to contest the election if misconduct or fraud might have changed its result.
A judge on Friday denied West’s request to impound ballots and voting machines. The state tally in the Florida’s redrawn 18th congressional district follows additional vote counting in Palm Beach County.
County election officials worked until early Saturday morning to count absentee and problems ballots as well as uncounted ballots from early voting and Election Day, according to The Palm Beach Post. The district also includes parts of Martin County, along the state’s so-called Gold Coast.
The group Revive America has rallied to support West should he mount a legal challenge. The conservative group sent out an email Saturday calling for donations and saying Washington Republicans are now giving West little help.
“Dear Patriot,” the email begins. “Conservative hero Allen West is in the midst of a brutal recount. … The liberals threw everything they had at him in this election and couldn’t defeat him outright. So now they are trying to STEAL this election.”
Circuit Judge David Crow on Friday called the West’s motion “entirely premature,” saying that vote-counting procedures are in place and being followed. An attorney for West said the campaign was simply trying to make sure the election is fair and transparent.
An attorney for Murphy called West’s legal actions a “political stunt.” Murphy also filed papers, stating West’s court documents were riddled with errors and that he failed to give a single reason his request is valid.
The Palm Beach County Canvassing Board said earlier there was no reason to impound ballots and voting machines when officials have yet to finish counting.
West appeared to hold the slimmest of leads going into the final weeks of the race, despite his Tea Party status that made him a target for Democrats. The non-partisan Rothberg Political Report has the race as “toss-up/ leaning Republican.”
However, the Murphy campaign argues West was fading in the homestretch — citing two recent polls that show Murphy leading, including a Sept. 30 one released by Republican pollster Kimball Political Consulting that found Murphy leading 49-45 percent.
West’s hard-hitting campaign, after his 2010 victory, was marked by powerful ads, including one that showed a 2003 mug shot of Murphy after he was ejected from a South Beach bar for being drunk, then arrested after a confrontation with police.
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