A county canvassing board on Friday ordered a recount of early-voting ballots in the race between U.S. Rep. Allen West and Democrat Patrick Murphy, hours after a judge declined to do the same.
The St. Lucie County Canvassing Board voted 2-to-1 late Friday in favor of the move in the 18th Congressional District contest, in which Murphy is the unofficial victor. A series of tabulation errors by the county has raised suspicion among West’s campaign and its supporters and appeared to motivate the board’s favorable vote.
It was a victory for West, delivered just after a defeat for the Republican congressman and conservative firebrand in the courtroom. But whether it will change the result in the race, in which Murphy has a lead of 1,907 votes, remained to be seen.
“There really wasn’t any basis in the law for the decision they made,” said Murphy attorney Sean Domnick. “It really doesn’t change anything. He is the representative for District 18 and he will continue to be.”
The canvassing board declined to order a recount of absentee ballots, which West’s campaign had sought. The recount – technically being referred to as a retabulation – was set for Saturday.
Earlier Friday, St. Lucie Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn sided with attorneys for Murphy, as well as those representing the county supervisor of elections and canvassing board. He agreed with arguments that he had no authority to order a recount and that West’s campaign could contest the election if they are unsatisfied with its results.
Murphy has a 50.3 percent share of the ballots, a margin of six-tenths of a percentage point that is just above the half-percentage point threshold to order a full recount. The Democrat is the winner in the eyes of the state and was in Washington this week attending House orientation.
“Their objective is not to ensure a fair and accurate accounting of all votes but simply to ensure that Mr. Murphy can continue pretending to be a congressman,” said West campaign manager Tim Edson.
West’s attorneys allege all kinds of possible malfeasance at the polls, including discrepancies between the number of people signed in at precincts and the ultimate number of votes counted. Should Murphy still hold the vote lead after the recount, it was unclear if West might offer a concession.
Counties must file certified election results with the state by noon Sunday. West can formally contest the election after that.
The race was one of the country’s most expensive House contests and one of the most closely watched.
West, 51, is a first-term tea party favorite who has made a string of headline-grabbing statements, from calling scores of congressional Democrats communists to saying President Barack Obama, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and others should “get the hell out of the United States.” Murphy, 29, is a political newcomer who portrayed West as an extremist who has done little else in Washington than stoke partisan fires.