By: John Fund
The characters in the latest example of South Florida’s dysfunctional election system — recall the Bush v. Gore debacle in 2000 — are worthy of a Carl Hiaasen potboiler.
Congressman Allen West, an outspoken tea-party favorite whose district was pushed into largely new territory by redistricting, is claiming that massive voter irregularities are robbing him of his seat.
Democrat Patrick Murphy, who leads West by some 2,000 votes, is trying to stop a full recount of controversial early ballots cast in St. Lucie County. His current victory margin is just large enough to avoid triggering an automatic recall of all precincts and all votes.
Then there is Gertrude Walker, the 32-year-veteran election supervisor of St. Lucie County, who has spent much of the last two weeks explaining why her office completely botched the count. She admitted that her office had acted in “haste” in issuing election results, and that “mistakes were made.” Among her mistakes was failing to count 40 of the 94 precincts under her jurisdiction on Election Night — and then counting the other 54 twice. Indeed. On Friday, her office announced it had “discovered” 304 additional early votes left in a box. None had been counted.
But Walker wasn’t available for comment. She has been hospitalized for unknown reasons.
The news was one reason that Florida’s secretary of state has dispatched a team of experts to audit St. Lucie’s procedures. The St. Lucie Election Canvassing Board voted to approve a complete recount of all the early ballots. It began the recount on Saturday but stopped it at 8 p.m. because the county building’s security system was set to be switched on later that night. Some people complained that the alarms have been switched off in the past to allow county business to continue after hours, but their complaints were ignored. The recount resumed on Sunday morning, but it missed the noon deadline to submit the county’s final returns to Florida’s secretary of state.
So, on Sunday, the previous results—the ones showing Democrat Murphy ahead—were sent to Florida’s secretary of state for certification.
Walker has a history of abetting or ignoring sloppy election procedures. In 2003, a state-appointed task force of six election experts found that Mariam Oliphant, the then–Supervisor of Elections in Broward County, was incapable of running her office and counting votes correctly. Among other problems, she had hired a homeless man who refused to count certain ballots.
The task force recommended removing Oliphant from office. The only dissenter was Gertrude Walker, even though local NAACP chapters had urged Oliphant, who like Walker is African American, to step down from her position for reasons of incompetence.
In her own county, Walker dragged her feet at implementing any efforts to remove dead voters, felons, or non-citizens from the voter rolls. “We’re being very deliberative about it,” Walker told the Palm Beach Post in 2004. “We want to make sure we don’t disenfranchise anyone or even notify someone they are a possible felon unless we have confirmation of it.” Earlier this year, Walker delayed sending out letters to non-citizens telling them they should clarify their status or risk being removed from the voter rolls. Even though the list had been developed by the Florida Department of State using federal data, Walker said she didn’t trust the validity of the information.
Representative West insists he will seek a full recount in the race, saying confidence in the integrity of the election has been shattered. His legal options may be limited because of the slow-walking maneuvers of the St. Lucie election officials, but here’s hoping a court steps in and requires corrective action. Florida can’t afford another cloud over its election procedures, and the only way to prevent another counting disaster in the future is to have a full accounting and thorough audit of this year’s election.