Close to 1,600 voters from three beachside precincts in Flagler County filled out a ballot that was missing the District 3 race for East Flagler Mosquito Control District.
The ballot error was not picked up by three proof-readers when it was reviewed by Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart and two staffers before it went out to 1,200 voters who voted by mail, and, on Monday, to 363 people who took part in early voting. But the error was caught late Monday afternoon and did not affect further voters.
“It was an oversight,” Lenhart said this afternoon. She explained the issue to the Flagler County Canvassing Board, which was meeting for most of the day today. “My first priority was to contain the issue, and provide a reasonable solution, so it has been determined that it’s only affected the vote by mail for our first run up until that day, and then the first day of early voting, for only those three precincts.”
The three precincts are Number 29, 33 and 35—the Adult Education Building in the Hammock, Flagler Beach City Hall and Flagler Beach Methodist Church. Voters taking part in early voting would have received the ballots at any of three early voting sites that would have otherwise been distributed at their precinct on Election Day. A voter at the Palm Coast Community Center’s early-voting sight flagged the error shortly after 3 p.m. Monday.
For most of the voters–the 1,200 who voted by mail—the error is being fixed: they’ve been mailed a new ballot, and each voter is getting a phone call from the supervisor’s office to ensure that he or she realizes the ballot they’re receiving is valid and must be filled out and returned. They will have until Election Day at 7 p.m. to turn it in.
The supervisor’s office can do that because the ballots mailed in had not yet counted as votes: they had not been canvassed and tabulated.
It’s more complicated for the 363 ballots cast in early voting. Those ballots have gone through the tabulation machine, making them official votes. The ballots may not be pulled back out after that. There is no re-vote.
“Now we’re trying to get a determination legally if we’re able to make any kind of combination for those people who voted early,” Lenhart said, meaning some sort of additional ballot that would enable the voters to vote again for just that mosquito control race (which features candidates Florence Fruehan and Aynne McAvoy).
“And that is the issue: can we make any kind of accommodation for the voter,” Lenhart said. “There’s no precedent legally that I can find and there’s nothing in the statute that allows it, that’s why we’re trying to get a recommendation from the Division of Elections in order to make some kind of accommodation for them.”
That recommendation was still pending as of mid-afternoon today. Lenhart was hoping to hear back. If not, a special meeting of the Canvassing Board is scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m.
One of the possibilities is that the opportunity for those 363 voters to have a voice in the mosquito control race may be lost: there would be no additional votes. Another possibility is that they would be allowed to cast an additional ballot bearing that race.
But it’s all unchartered, legally-fraught territory: a similar issue has unfolded in Broward County, where a few ballots sent to people voting by mail were missing the Amendment 2 box—the proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana. “We’ve not been able to find any evidence that this goes beyond these limited number of voters,” Bernadette Norris-Weekes, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, told a Miami television station. But a circuit judge held an emergency hearing Tuesday on behalf of an organization supporting Amendment 2 to sort out the issue.
Asked what her preferred approach in Flagler would be, Lenhart said: “It’s difficult. I’d like to go back and redo it, the entire situation. However, seeing that the ballots have already been cast I know that the responsibility is for the voter to, if there’s a problem with the ballot, to stop, but they were given the wrong ballot, so I’d like to make that right.”