Every close and disputed election has its own unique set of facts, but all have two things in common: the candidate who’s behind wants to keep counting votes and the candidate who’s ahead wants the counting to stop. The Congressional District 18 race between Republican Rep. Allen West and unofficial Democratic victor Patrick Murphy is no exception. West, trailing by less than 1 percent, became the latest count-every-vote advocate after it became apparent that St. Lucie County bungled its initial tally of early votes. He pressed all last week for a full recount of more than 37,000 early ballots, finally got one Saturday, and appeared to have fallen 241 votes further behind Murphy when the exercise ended Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, West said his campaign “will review the results of today’s recount and the other available data to determine how to proceed.”
All along, West said the recount issue was larger than himself or the outcome of the election. “It’s not about me. It’s about assuring these people that they have a fair electoral process. … If people start to lose their trust and confidence in their vote, that’s the beginning of the end of a republic,” said West last Monday.
Or, as Al Gore put it in arguing for a Florida recount in 2000: “It is important for the integrity of our democracy to make sure that every vote is counted. Especially in a close election because the foundation of our constitutional self-government is the consent of the governed.”
Murphy deployed his lawyers to argue all last week against recounting or retabulating votes in St. Lucie County. Attorney Sean Domnick objected to an initial Nov. 11 recount of ballots from the last three days of early voting, saying the votes already had been counted. After that recount went on and West netted 535 votes, Domnick and attorney Gerry Richman argued against expanding the recount to the other five days of early voting, saying there was no evidence of problems on those days to meet the statutory standard for a retabulation.
“The votes were counted on Election Day, recounted last Sunday, and this would be the third time many of these votes have been counted,” Murphy spokeswoman Erin Moffet said Saturday as the campaign’s lawyers tried, and failed, to get a judge to halt the counting. “You can’t keep counting until you get the answer you like.”
Her words were reminiscent of George W. Bush campaign adviser James Baker’s back in 2000. “The vote in Florida has been counted and then recounted. Governor Bush was the winner of the vote. He was also the winner of the recount,” said Baker, who accused the Gore campaign of trying to “keep recounting until it likes the result.”
An argument to shut down ballot counting usually comes with a profession of sympathy for the trailing candidate and a call for healing and closure. “I can certainly understand the pain and the frustration of losing an election so very, very narrowly. But it is time to honor the will of the people. … For the healing and uniting and governing to begin, this election must be brought to a conclusion,” Baker said in 2000.
“It’s kind of like a football game,” said Murphy attorney Domnick on Friday. “There are rules that have to be followed. The fact that someone lost 21-19, however heartbreaking that might be, doesn’t change the fact that it is a loss and that Mr. West lost this race. He’s put on no evidence that anything they’ve asked for would ever change that irrefutable outcome that Patrick Murphy is now the representative of the 18th Congressional District.”