At 1 p.m today, Allen West fans outside the St.Lucie County courthouse were parading with signs and chanting, "What do we want?" and "When do we want it?" Answer one was "Recount!" Answer two was "Now!"
At 3 p.m., Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn told them "No" on both points. But by day's end, county elections officials gave them partial relief, leaving the contest for the 18th Congressional District in legal and electoral limbo.
In court, West's high-powered attorney, Jason Torchinsky
, boyish and bright, told Vaughn that West had "grave concerns" over the "scenes of chaos" in the ballot-counting overseen by St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker. (Not to mention the result: A narrow defeat for admitted torturer
West.) In an amended complaint, West's lawyers asked for a retabulation of all the county's early and absentee ballots.
Responding for the supervisor, diminutive and direct attorney Cynthia Angelos pointed out how clearly Florida law addresses elections procedures and how plainly it leaves "sole discretion" in such matters--when and how to run "retabulations," as opposed to "recounts"--to county canvassing boards. West's attorneys, she said, "want the court to legislate from the bench."
(A "recount" is triggered when a margin of victory is 0.5 percent or less. A "retabulation" occurs when a canvassing board finds errors in an initial tally.)
Baby-faced Sean Dominick and suave Gerry Richman, attorneys for West's opponent, Congressman-elect (doesn't that have a nice ring to it?) Patrick Murphy, asked Vaughn to simply follow in the footsteps of Palm Beach Circuit Judge David Crow, who last week shot down West's request for a similar injunction--and on the same grounds: "Not a shred of evidence" of injury or official misconduct.
West co-counsel Mark Miller, a brusque and bulky Stuart attorney, played the hometown card (after nudging by Torchinsky), asking Vaughn to disregard the urgings of Murphy's "Palm Beach lawyers." (Can't you just see their elitist silk stockings?)
In another low blow, Miller claimed that Murphy's team had lost their chance to object to a retabulation of the early ballots, because Dominick had failed to object to county officials' announced plans to do so last Saturday -- plans later changed and limited to retabulation only of mishandled early ballots.
Dominick told us he had objected to the broader retabulation "forcefully" and "on the record." He said he was disappointed West's attorney "misrepresented" the facts. (But he didn't say he was surprised.)
Vaughn came down squarely on the side of Murphy--and the law. Saying he saw "no evidence to establish" 1) harm to the defendant, 2) lack of existing procedural remedy, and 3) likelihood of success in their case, he declined West's plea for injunction. Vaughn added, though, that the St. Lucie County canvassing board "is not bound by this ruling."
Piggybacking on a previously scheduled 3 pm meeting to count overseas ballots, the canvassing board added a 4 pm sitdown to consider West's request. They promptly set about that task...at 7 pm.
The delay left plenty of time to absorb the homespun surroundings--ballots stored in recycled cardboard boxes, on chintzy folding tables surrounded by mismatched office chairs--and the anxious crowd of Westies in attendance. Especially striking was the shaven-headed dude with the single silver earring and greying handlebar mustache, wearing a motorcycle vest bearing the stars-and-bars and a patch reading "Everything I need to know about Islam I learned on 9-11." (Only the flag and the patch would leave him out of place at a West Village leather bar.)
The rest of the Westies looked more like the folks you'd see in the checkout line at Target. But given the chance to address the canvassing board face to face, their frustration spilled over into barely concealed anger. Two major new facts emerged to feed their fire.
One was the board's announcement that a box containing more than 300 uncounted ballots remained to be counted. Much skepticism and some groaning greeted the explanation that these were ballots that included at least one instance of a write-in vote and had been set aside for later counting.
The other was the statement by the chief of the state's Bureau of Voting Systems Certifications, David Drury, that his opinion was the board should grant West's first request and retabulate all the county's early votes. One of three observers present at the direction of Gov.
Evil Scott, and with no legal authority over the board, Drury knew he'd spoken out of turn. Despite badgering by West attorney Miller, Drury repeatedly, and sheepishly, insisted that was purely "a personal recommendation" and not offered in any official capacity.
The public comment that followed came overwhelmingly, and heatedly, from West's camp, and the efforts of Murphy's attorneys were lost in the din. Reflecting the paranoid mindset of their leader Col. Crazy, no reasoned explanation would be good enough, no instance of elections officials catching and correcting their own errors crystal-clear enough, to satisfy their suspicions. In the mind of Allen West and his followers, unknown unknowns run rampant forever.
In the end, the canvassing board voted to appease the beast, ordering a retabulation of all the county's early ballots--though not the county's absentee ballots. The beast is unappeasable, however, and if that partial concession fails to undo West's defeat, there's always another courtroom.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged dark red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]