They had a hot time in ol’ Palm Beach County last night — literally. The first attempt to recount ballots cast last week got halted when the machines literally overheated and started producing erroneous results. The election supervisor that declared her office couldn’t complete a recount before a legal deadline declared herself “disappointed.” The rest of the state had a different word in mind:
The county’s decade-old ballot-counting machines overheated and gave incorrect totals, forcing the county to restart its recount of about 175,000 early votes, supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said Tuesday night.
The department has flown in mechanics to repair the machines.
“We’re disappointed by the mechanical problems that are going to cause a further delay in the recount,” Bucher told reporters. “It became evident through the vigorous pace of counting that the machines used for the recount were starting to get stressed.”
The malfunctions resulted in the loss of more than a day’s work.
Bucher had a lot of bad news yesterday. Prospects looked good for Bucher to get an extension after a Democratic candidate for a state legislative race had sued to remove the deadline for submitting recount totals. Jim Bonfiglio had won an initial bench ruling, but unfortunately for Bucher and Bonfiglio, the judge took a while to write the opinion. Before that could be completed, Florida secretary of state Ken Detzner had pre-empted the ruling:
[B]efore Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers could issue the order in writing, attorneys for Secretary of State Ken Detzner filed a notice to move the case to federal court, meaning she no longer had jurisdiction. Detzner’s attorney’s motion was filed at 2:37 p.m. Gievers’ order was issued at 4:49 p.m.
“She was writing the order when the removal petition was filed. Since the order was not put in writing, it was not effective,” said Bonfiglio, who is mayor of Ocean Ridge. …
But about two hours before she finished writing the order, Detzner’s attorney filed their federal motion arguing that because Bonfiglio argues his U.S. constitutional rights under the Fifth and 14th Amendments were violated, the case should be heard in federal court.
That brings the total number of lawsuits in Tallahassee’s federal court to four:
Florida’s ongoing recount battle heads back to a courtroom Wednesday. Lawyers for Democrats will ask a federal judge to set aside the state law mandating that mailed-in votes be thrown out if the signature on the envelope doesn’t match the signature on file with election authorities. …
While the counting goes on, there are now four lawsuits pending in a Tallahassee federal court that seek to throw out ballot counting rules or extend deadlines for recounts.
Marc Elias, a campaign attorney for Nelson, argued ahead of the looming court battle that “we should all be able to agree that the goal here is a legal and accurate count.” Republicans have responded by contending that Democrats want to bend or skirt existing election laws to alter the outcome.
“We got to keep the heat on these people to make sure they follow the law,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney to reporters on a recount update organized by Scott’s campaign.
Ah … seems like old times, right? Florida voters think so too, and they’re not happy about it, the New York Times reports today. That might be especially true for people in the biz, so to speak, who are wondering why the courts don’t just follow the law:
“This has been a really, really weird election year,” said Paul Lux, the president of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections. “If 66 of 67 counties are able to complete the deadline, should they all be held up?”
He said the judge’s ruling surprised him, because the law already provides for the possibility that counties may not meet recount deadlines. If a county does not finish in time, the law states, the provisional results that were submitted to the state on Saturday stand. …
Palm Beach is not the only county that has experienced problems during the recount ordered on Saturday. Broward County’s count was delayed for several days because its machines did not initially pass a required accuracy test. A Bay County official admitted accepting votes cast by email and fax, which appears to be illegal. Manatee County election workers had to start over after about five hours of counting, because the elections supervisor forgot to press a button that would identify blank ballots.
“I think you cannot live in Florida and not be somewhat embarrassed about it, especially when it happens year after year after year,” said Michael Bennett, the supervisor who had failed to push the button. “We have a unique situation where the races are so unbelievably tight. You can’t have the close races that we have without some controversy. Stuff happens; a guy forgets to push a button.”
While a federal judge sorts out all of the competing lawsuits, what’s to be done about Palm Beach County? Bucher blames the issue on outdated equipment, which is all of eleven years old. She had money in her budget to upgrade the machines but declined to do so, claiming that the new machines would not meet standards that the state of Florida will impose beginning in 2020. The Times dryly notes, “That does not seem to have prevented other counties from making recent improvements,” which may be one point that the federal courts will consider when debating extensions to recount deadlines. The state has a compelling interest in bringing elections to an efficient close, after all, and if 66 out of 67 counties can meet a deadline, Bucher can too — or just stick with the original count. And if Palm Beach County doesn’t like the outcomes of Bucher’s leadership, they can look for another election supervisor.