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Ballot Error Missing Mosquito Race Grows to 2,200 Voters in 6 Precincts; Board’s Solution Breaks With State Elections Recommendation

| October 27, 2016

Members of the Canvassing Board were in unchartered territory this afternoon as Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart, center, presented a plan, later adopted, to issue supplemental ballots to voters who did not get to cast a vote in the mosquito control race. Aynne McAvoy, one of the candidates for that seat, is to the left (her opponent, Florence Fruehan, did not attend), with Canvassing Board members Nate McLaughlin, the county commissioner, and County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens. (© FlaglerLive)

Members of the Canvassing Board were in unchartered territory this afternoon as Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart, center, presented a plan, later adopted, to issue supplemental ballots to voters who did not get to cast a vote in the mosquito control race. Aynne McAvoy, one of the candidates for that seat, is to the left (her opponent, Florence Fruehan, did not attend), with Canvassing Board members Nate McLaughlin, the county commissioner, and County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens. (© FlaglerLive)

On Monday, the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections discovered that ballots affecting 1,600 voters in three precincts had been misprinted, denying those voters a chance to vote in the race for Seat 3 of the East Flagler Mosquito Control District. This afternoon, Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart said the problem was worse, affecting six precincts and 2,200 votes.

“That sounds like the worst news, however the amount of voters affected in those splits is very small,” Lenhart said.

The original problem was in precincts 29, 33 and 35, on the Barrier Island. The additional problem ballots are in three so-called “split” precincts, where some voters are included in the mosquito district, and therefore eligible to vote for that seat, and some are not. Those are precincts 9, 27, and 37—First Baptist Church of Bunnell, the Palm Coast Community Center, and Old Kings Elementary. In all, 658 voters who voted early and 1,548 who got their ballot by mail got the wrong ballot as far as the mosquito control race is concerned.

But in an emergency meeting this afternoon, the Flagler County Canvassing Board voted to resolve the problem by issuing what it’s calling a “supplemental ballot” to all affected voters. The supplemental ballot will include an affidavit that affirms the voter’s identity. The ballots will be mailed to all affected voters, including those who have voted in person early, and each voter will be contacted by phone and email, if possible. All affected voters will also have the opportunity to request or turn in the supplemental ballot in person at the supervisor’s office in Bunnell. The turned in ballots will be tabulated by hand the night of the election.

The solution was put forth by Lenhart even though it goes against the recommendation of the state Division of Elections, which recommended that Lenhart do nothing regarding the 658 voters who voted early, and that she provide a new, complete and correct ballot, with all the races from  president on down, to those voters who voted by mail with the erroneous ballot.

kaiti lenhart

Kaiti Lenhart, Flagler County’s elections supervisor.(© FlaglerLive)

Lenhart disagreed with both recommendations—the first because she did not want to disenfranchise 658 voters outright from a voice in the mosquito control race. The second because, as advised by Ron Labasky, the supervisor of elections association’s lawyer, a ballot mailed in is a ballot cast, and Florida law forbids the casting of the same ballot twice in the same election: there would be no way to tell if voters who would have voted one way in the first ballot would have voted the same way in the second.

“My stance on this entire thing is there’s no precedent in the law,” Lenhart said. “The affected precincts and voters, they’ve been identified, we have staff, resources and time to offer the reasonable solution. So the only thing we’re headed up against is an email from the division which doesn’t fully authorize that as a solution. In my reading of the law, I’m not an attorney, and that’s why we have several here, in my reading of the law I’m willing to stick my head out for the voters and say hey, I will accept this responsibility, it was my mistake, I did what I can to correct it, because that is my job as supervisor of election. It doesn’t matter what lawsuit I’m facing or what enemy down the road wants to come at the decision made. I can’t base my decision-making by that. I have to err on the side of the voter in every situation, always. Otherwise I’m not doing my job. I know it’s not a pleasant situation for any of us. No one here is really smiling at each other. We’re not enjoying this at all, and I’m sorry. That’s why I want to make it up to the voters.”

A relatively contained problem that may yet have outsized ramifications in a jumpy election season.

If the supervisor’s office was to have been left with two stacks of mailed in ballots from voters by mail, it may also have faced a nightmare of potential litigation, and not just from voters who didn’t get to cast a ballot in the mosquito control race—but from any voter or party that may raise legal issues with the process, none of which is explicitly set out in law. Even so, Flagler elections officials—if not others on the canvassing board—may be praying that Florida does not end up at the center of another 2000-style election where ballot integrity becomes the issue, as Flagler’s problem, justifiably or not, would inevitably draw outsized attention, particularly in the current overheated climate of suspicions (however baseless) about the election process.

“Having potentially two ballots where you have those where if it’s me,” Labaski said, speaking to the canvassing board on a speaker phone from Tallahassee, “I cast the first one, you get it, and you send me a second one, and I’ve now voted for the president twice, obviously keeping track of those ballots would maybe come into question if there was ever a recount or something of that nature, so that would concern me, and I think Kaiti’s solution to me is not foreclosed by the statutes.” In other words, not forbidden by law.

Flagler’s ballot problem affects the mosquito control race featuring candidates Florence Fruehan and Aynne McAvoy. It is usually the sort of race for an office that gets the least attention. Ironically, it may end up getting more attention than many of the races on the ballot over the next 10 days. McAvoy was at the canvassing board today and spoke approvingly of the solution Lenhart put forth.

Commissioner Nate McLaughlin. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioner Nate McLaughlin. (© FlaglerLive)

Neither Lenhart’s solution nor that of the Division of Elections left the canvassing board members comfortable. “On which ship are we safer, the Carpathia or the Titanic?” Nate McLaughlin, the county commissioner and canvassing board member for this cycle, said, referring to the ship that rescued some 700 survivors from the sinking Titanic in 1912, a number not too distant from the lost votes the Division of Elections was recommending be ignored. “So we’ve got two avenues that are both fraught with peril,” McLaughlin continued. “If we do nothing, then somebody is being disenfranchised and I see a suit coming. If we do something, at least those votes can be pulled out should a court say no, but if a court says yes, then the vote is sitting there and can be added in or taken out. I don’t see how we stay out of court with this either way.”

That’s assuming there is litigation.

“My concern,” said Melissa Moore-Stens, the county judge who chairs the canvassing board, “is what Maria Matthews from the Division [of Elections] sent us was that for early voters, there’s nothing that we could do, and just proceed with the results as is and hope that the outcome isn’t affected. That was the recommendation, and from a judicial standpoint, when we request an ethics opinion or something along those lines, if we follow that opinion, it’s presumptive good faith, and if we don’t, obviously it’s not. So to me it’s as though Ms. Matthews at least in her capacity has suggested that we do nothing, and I understand the board’s desire and motivation to have the voters have the ability to cast the vote in this one race that was inadvertently omitted, and I do think we have crafted a solution to the problem and can make that happen. My concern is that Ms. Matthews has already come out and told us not to do that.”

If an issue did arise, Labasky said, then the division’s opinion would be given “great credence.”

Sean Moylan, the attorney for the canvassing board—and an attorney in the county attorney’s office—explained the division’s position: “The statutes, although they don’t forbid her course of action, at the same time do not authorize it, and that she’s without authority to do this. Admittedly, there’s risk in any course we decide to take. The statute seems silent in this situation where there’s a mistake in ballot, as do the rules, the FAC rules, the attorney general’s opinions, the Division of Elections opinions. I haven’t found anything that speaks to this issue. So I guess it boils down to what authority, what do we hang our hat on to do this, aside from the equitable principle of trying to allow everybody to voice their vote.”

Just then, Moylan’s analysis, delivered slowly and carefully, was interrupted by a shriekingly high-pitched and repeated “meow-meow,”  as if a cat had just been thrown onto the conference table and frightened into a stutter by the rim of glum creatures around it: it was McAvoy’s cell phone, ringing.

There was no conclusive answer to Molylan’s analysis beyond Labasky’s endorsement of Lenhart’s approach (he stressed that “quality control” in the process would be crucial), leaving it in the hands of Lenhart to fill the gray with the decision she considers more immediately beneficial to voters.

The judge’s trepidation may be why, when McLaughlin motioned to approve the Lenhart plan and Lenhart seconded it, the two of them clearly voted in favor, but the judge remained silent. It was not a vote against, and silence carries the presumption of affirmation in such situations, but the silence also reflected unease.

22 Responses for “Ballot Error Missing Mosquito Race Grows to 2,200 Voters in 6 Precincts; Board’s Solution Breaks With State Elections Recommendation”

  1. Sw says:

    You get paid how much ! In tbis jerk water USA Town the information is incomplete on a ballot for what a few thousand. ..geez

  2. Joe A says:

    All I can say is what a big mess! Shaking my head! 2 Months in and we got a lawsuit and now this!

  3. Concerned Citizen says:

    I said it before on the other article and will say it again.

    How on earth do 3 “proof readers” several staffers and the SOE plus Canvassing Board miss something like this on 2,200 Ballots? I could understand 1 or 2 but 2K plus is a little extreme.

    If you can’t catch 1 error let alone 2 thousand you don’t need to be in the job.

    I call BS on it being an innocent mistake. Once again the SOE office got caught doing dirty and thankfully local media has brought it to our attention.

    No surprise Craig Coffey is in the thick of it.

    We have major elections coming up and now we have to wonder how the integrity is on the Ballots. Leaving names off and not putting voting races on the ballot sure doesn’t help.

    I’m guessing it won’t be long before FDLE is back in this office paying a little visit.

  4. kathryn says:

    Supervisor of election”s only job! Is to supervise elections and. Make sure voting ballot’s are concise. Wow! She failed to do her job!!! Miserably ! The buck stops on her. Now what? Coddlle her and cover it up?outrageous! Our tax dollars fixing and repairing again!

  5. CLS says:

    Thank you Katie. I believe you did the right thing so as not to disenfranchise the voters. Now the Division of Election’s ‘suggestion’ calls for me to wonder if they would allow the same thing to happen during the primary election?

    Some proofreading is in order, I do believe, next time…

  6. American Veteran says:

    Trump is right – this election is rigged!

  7. Money says:

    It’s an honest mistake and it seems that every early mail voter that was not able to cast their vote now can. Get over it.

  8. Old Lady says:

    [Note: Palm Coast is not involved in running the election.–FL]

    Typical Palm Coast, let’s give the another raise.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    [Note: palmcoaster is incorrect about the two races for mosquito control. Only one race is on the ballot this year. Another was uncontested.–FL]

    Sorry SOE Kati Lenhart; please do not understate the amount of ballots misprinted, because if were supposed to be 4 people in the mosquito race I only had 2 in my ballot in the Palm Coast Community Center and I noticed that a voter returned a ballot to the precint officials that she said had a vertical line misprinted across the back over the marijuana amendment. She said was concerned how the electronic scanner will read it so her ballot was spoiled and she was given a second ballot to vote that was fine.
    For sure the excellent work of the very much witch hunted former SOE Kimberle Weeks and her experienced assistant Dorleen are missing in this Presidential election. The county politicking and micromanaging the canvassing board and election in favor of switching to their favorite current SOE while undermining Weeks and this is what we get. Current SOE does not have the necessary experience that Weeks and Dorleen had but for the county the current one is the SOE that they can manipulate better no matter if she knows her job or not. For worst Lenhart fired Dorleen too the only one left that knew the process after embattled Weeks resigned. Shame! Now Dorleen also is suing Lenhart for firing her after she took medical leave! Like I said also with McLaughlin in the canvassing board now I wonder what cake is baking to take with Coffey?Lets see what else will transpire within these 112 days left. Maybe Coffey will seat his secretary to help the SOE…Judge Moore Stens is correct the Division of Elections, the Bondy State Attorneys and the whole Tallahasse with Scott at the helm are just a comedy of error and falsehood that is still in court against innocent and excellent former SOE Kemberle Weeks wasting our taxpayers funds and promoted by FCBCC and their mastermind Coffey!!!

  10. Mari Molina says:

    Kaiti Lenhar needs to be fired. Plain and simply
    She also had issues with the Bunnell election and now this mess. Flagler County can do better get hernout😲

  11. Voter Motor says:

    Oh Boy, now I have to sign my name to some form that will probably be “voided” by the state in a month. Just leave the damn ballots alone. I really don’t don’t give a RAT ASS who’s spraying the swamps .

  12. palmcoaster says:

    If the goofing would have been made by former SOE Kemberle Weeks that never made such an error and furthermore was named by Tallahassee as one of the best SOE’s among 8 of them in Florida, the FCBOCC, Coffey, Hadeed Cty Attorney and City of Palm Coast officials would have clamored to take her to the gallows already and Mclaughlin would have been the first one NOT approving any proposal to fix the error with another ballot to be mailed like he just did for his favorite Kati L. She can get anything she wants from them and also get away with anything too. Tell us about wicked bias…while having an elected constitutional official in their… leash.

  13. L.D. Ablo says:

    Where’s Kim Weeks when you need her? Never would have happened on her watch.

  14. John says:

    The SOE is one person, however, there is a staff that works for her. While the buck stops with Ms. Lenhart, it was obviously a staff member who dropped the ball. Lenhart is en elected official…a politician. Staff do most the work, like in any elected position. She just supervises I’m sure. I wonder how much that staff member makes? Maybe Kaiti needs some new COMPETENT staff? Sometimes you have to clean the closet out.

  15. Robert Lewis says:

    Just imagine if we had Kim Medley as the SOE. Things would have been far worse. Maybe even highlighted ballots indicating Boss picks.

  16. Thomas Conrad says:

    Great. Lenhart makes about $135,000 per year. Resign before you screw up again.

  17. lenamarshall says:

    Why is out County government especially the Elections office have such drama all the time. ?
    This just freaking ridiculous and now with all the issues in the nation about the Vote being fixed, we are right in the middle of this.
    Never had this issue with Ms Weeks, as much as you all hated her.

  18. Fraudisreal says:

    If you see some thing say something , many reports of voter fraud in multiple states again today x and even in Florida stay vigilant y’all

  19. Concerned Citizen says:

    @ Money

    A mistake is turning left when you should have turned right. Not making an error of this magnitude on an already embattled and issue prone ballot process. So therefor YOU get over it !!

    The people of this county have the right to an honest election process. Instead we have County Administrators/Commissioners and a sitting Judge dipping their hand into the ballot process and controlling what goes out on a ballot. How is this not a conflict of interest?

    We then have proof readers and staffers who cannot read correctly. I’m sorry. I thought reading skills would be essential to having a job that involves proof reading. Obviously it’s who you know and not what you know to get a job in this county.

    The citizens of this county deserve a fair and impartial as well as uncompromised election process. Voting is supposed to be one of our fundamental rights and a right that should be taken serious by everyone.

    The SOE seriously needs to reevaluate her office and procedures. I think there are a lot more issues going on behind those doors than leaving names and voting topics off of Ballots..

  20. Mari Molina says:

    The SOE ansd all her staff need to be let go.

  21. Pamela Andrews says:

    Wondering how my mistake, my faith in staff, wrong ballots passed…is so much more than this???
    She (Lenhart) said that I would never work in the elections office…EVER again…
    After working for 25 years, to be treated poorly by her and her staff…disappointing :(
    Karma caught her quicker than most…
    Hope that she does not skate, but I am sure will…
    after all the canvassing board totally ignored my reporting of taking ballots out of the box before the polls closed…which she ordered, and completely breaking election laws…
    Maybe the cpounty residents ned to put a call into the Governors
    Office of Governor Rick Scott
    State of Florida
    The Capitol
    400 S. Monroe St.
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
    (850) 488-7146

  22. Left Out says:

    I was one of the mail-in voters who were affected by this mistake. My husband (a registered Republican) received his supplemental ballot and a call from the SOE office to make sure that he was aware of the problem. I am a registered Democrat, and have not received my ballot nor any communication from the SOE. I have called the SOE on several occasions to make sure that my ballot had been mailed. Today (the day before the election) I was told that my ballot had been mailed but was probably lost in the mail, and I would have to come into the office in order to vote. I am able bodied, and will show up tomorrow to cast my vote but I am sure that there are some people that are not able to physically go to the polls (that is why they chose to vote by mail in the first place, right?). I can’t help but feel that this mistake affects the most vulnerable portion of the population, and robs them of their right to vote. Shame on you!

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