True the Vote Sues St. Lucie County, FL Over 'Botched' Allen West Contest
After one of the most expensive congressional races and recounts of 2012 between Rep. Allen West (R) and now Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), Houston-based True the Vote has committed to exposing exactly what happened in St. Lucie County--including hauling Elections Supervisor Gertrude Walker into federal court.
True the Vote filed a federal lawsuit against Walker, the controversial election administrator, for failure to comply with federal law. The Motor Voter law of 1993 grants the right to inspect election records, and ought to allow True the Vote to perform a “comprehensive, third-party audit” of the recount, the group claims.
Vote-counting in St. Lucie County, according to both the lawsuit and local press accounts, was deeply troubled, involving considerable confusion and missed deadlines in the original tabulation and subsequent recount.
Thus far, Walker has failed to comply with True the Vote’s requests to inspect the election records. The request included, among other things, all records of Walker ensuring non-citizens and ineligible voters did not participate in the Congressional election.
True the Vote Founder and President Catherine Engelbrecht outlined the importance of this lawsuit, stating:
"This dramatic recount was an extraordinary example of how our elections can suffer systematic failure. We run the risk of seeing episodes like this becoming ordinary if citizens do not demand answers and hold election officials accountable. The American people own the voting system--we have the right to ask tough questions when we witness the failure of one of America’s core functions.”
A key demand by the national election integrity watchdog is a request that the federal court order the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections to “preserve all election records, in whatever form, relating to the 2012 Federal general election for Florida’s 18th Congressional District,” according to the text of the lawsuit.
“The clock is ticking on the opportunity for a comprehensive, outside audit of this recount,” Engelbrecht said. “Each passing day heightens the risk of critical documents being disposed of. If you thought voter fraud could erode America’s confidence in elections, unchecked incompetence in the vote tabulation process will destroy all faith remaining in our systems.”
Should True the Vote obtain injunctive relief, they will have an opportunity to review and publish the full story behind the 2012 election for Congress, according to Engelbrecht in an exclusive interview with Breitbart News:
“Congressman West’s office space on Capitol Hill changed hands weeks ago. Nothing will reverse that. We have an opportunity, however, to deconstruct a recount that St. Lucie County election officials admits was prone to error and led to a vote tally they publicly doubted. How many more times will we allow elections to end on such questionable grounds, without citizens ever bothering to question the process?”
Engelbrecht also clarified the group’s motivation for bringing the lawsuit and stated:
“This has nothing to do with politics. Recounts are going to be a fact of life as long as America remains so polarized. We have a chance to learn what exactly went wrong in St. Lucie County and whether the election was decided only by those entitled to participate. We have an opportunity to educate others on how to avoid costly mistakes from being made in the future. Some folks may not feel that this is worth fighting over. We cannot wait for this kind of injustice to spread until all Americans demand better.”
True the Vote’s attorneys for the suit have expressed confidence in their case. Former Justice Department attorney and New York Times bestselling author J. Christian Adams celebrated the “new normal” of ordinary citizens taking advantage of their rights under federal election law.
“Gone are the days when Motor Voter is a law used only by a couple of special interest groups. The law requires physical inspections. I hope we reach a quick agreement.”
True the Vote is also represented by Michael A. Barnett of Boca Raton, Florida, as local counsel.
On election night, the West campaign grew concerned after St. Lucie County administrators claimed tabulation machines malfunctioned when processing early votes. County workers scrambled to hand-feed the multi-page ballots. Two days later, on November 8, preliminary vote totals were failing to match ballots received in various precincts. West demanded a full recount of early votes cast throughout the county and access to poll sign-in records. Both requests were denied and ignored, respectively.
On November 9, Allen West petitioned a Florida court to “impound” all ballots and voting machines to force a recount. Unlike True the Vote, West’s legal team made no claims under federal election law. As current vote totals were outside of the parameters for a statutory recount (a 0.5% margin in votes), the court ruled the request “premature.”
A defining moment in the St. Lucie recount episode occurred on November 10. Supervisor Walker “unofficially certified” the vote count and immediately expressed concerns for its accuracy due to the tabulation errors. County officials ordered an emergency meeting to organize a full retabulation of early votes. The same day, election administrators reasoned that a full recount would be unnecessary, claiming that malfunctions were limited to only three days of early ballots received.
On November 13, Walker held a press conference admitting that “mistakes were made” and her staff acted “in haste” to process the results. Local news outlets reported the enormity of the “mistakes":
“Out of 94 precincts, the first 40--mostly in Fort Pierce--weren't counted at all, and the last 54--mostly in Port St. Lucie---were counted twice…”.
Results were not certified due to military and overseas ballots still arriving. In addition, the Florida Division of Elections sent auditors to St. Lucie County to investigate, among other things, how a partial recount of early votes could lead to 799 ballots switching hands or disappearing.
After seeking to calm the concerns of the West campaign and Florida voters by stating in her press conference that the partial recount had corrected all outstanding errors, Walker boldly claimed that “every vote has been counted accurately.” Three days later, on November 16, Walker suddenly found 306 ballots in a box at her office that had not been counted. The St. Lucie County Canvassing Board immediately ordered a full recount of all early ballots with a deadline set for noon on November 18.
Campaign observers shared great concern over the hectic atmosphere in the recounting facility, a commercial storefront. According to the lawsuit, county workers were evicted from the premises late at night due to a lack of security, costing roughly 10 hours of time before the noon deadline the next day. On November 18, the recount resumed with limited hope that the deadline would be met.
The recount ended in an alarming series of events beginning nine minutes before the deadline. At 11:51 AM, county officials questioned the West and Murphy campaigns about “what they planned to do if the county failed to meet the deadline.”
After the noon deadline passed, county employees moved the recounting process into a back room, away from campaign and public observers. Candidates were not informed that the deadline had been missed.
Two hours after the deadline, St. Lucie County election officials approached the West and Murray campaigns, asking them to share their independent retabulation figures for comparison purposes. Both campaigns declined. As the two candidates and St. Lucie County could not render a vote total, election administrators certified the flawed count from November 10--the same count that Gertrude Walker publicly doubted.
True the Vote’s lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida--Fort Pierce Division, per today’s release (see below).
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
St. Lucie County Complaint by True The Vote PR