It was perhaps predictable. Hours after Alan Lowe and four other candidates decisively and unquestionably lost the Palm Coast mayoral election to David Alfin Tuesday night, lugubrious chatter on social media’s usual Lowe-trotting channels began. The election was stolen. Renters from out of town voted. The voting machines switched votes. It was often a word for word parroting of the conspiratorial disbelief that Donald Trump instigated the night of his loss and fueled almost hourly afterward.
Except that Lowe has kept near-radio silence. The chatter on his page was his fans’, in a thread beneath what appear to be his only publicly published three words on his Facebook page since the election: “Thank you everyone!” (He did not respond to emailed questions about his intentions.) It did not keep the ominous from blustering, on that and other social media pages managed by Lowe’s reactionary backers.
No one is contesting the election, Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart said–and there wouldn’t be much to contest. Under Florida law, only elections with results showing the victor ahead by less than half a percentage point may be up for a recount, if one of the candidates requests it. Alfin won by 10 points, and 73 percent of voters chose someone other than Lowe. Still, his fans are appealing, at least to him, and others are fomenting free-lance investigations that may lend the impression of voting irregularities, though none have been reported or observed, let alone detected in the tabulations (the machines were audited before the election, as required by law.)
Lenhart has received a laborious public-record request about the election from a Republican party operative from Georgia and a demand for a “forensic audit” of the election from a local resident-activist allied with Dennis McDonald, the on-and-off gadfly and instigator. The social media chatter meanwhile is playing the role of Greek Chorus to Lowe’s tragedy.
“Are you contesting the results?” “Alan Lowe you had five times more support than Alfin I smell another liberal cheat in the pond.” “I wonder if it’s from all the people who owned rental apartments in Palm Coast and don’t live here we need to start knocking on doors to find out if these people actually live in Palm Coast or upstate New York.” “Everyone needs to register and they’re going to show you how the machines are switching votes.” “Hope there will be a recount and audit of the mail-in ballots!” “I’m through with this crap! Something crooked is going on!” “I’m not buying it, the results make no sense. I seriously have lost faith in the integrity of our election process.”
On another social media site there was a more threatening tone to a comment by an individual identifying himself as “Dave Teske”: “”Alfin, I’m moving to Palm Coast in September and believe this I will be watching your style of government and the 1st notice of impropriety we will be over like stink on…well you know what. You are accountable to us and not the money whores. I’m leaving Milwaukee and have put up with pay to play and it STOPS in Palm Coast.”
By a little after 7 a.m. this morning, Virginia Smith, the Palm Coast City Clerk, was receiving an email from a familiar source–Lou Vitale, who has led the opposition to a development around Palm Harbor, then to a proposed cell tower there, both times successfully.
“The Team at ProtectPalmCoast.com officially requests the cost with estimated delivery date for an independent Forensic Voting Audit of the Mayor’s Election on 27 July 2021,” Vitale wrote Smith. “This is very serious request, so we sincerely appreciate your time and effort responding to our inquiry.” (The “team” has usually meant Vitale and McDonald, both of whom have the means to bankroll their hobbies.)
There is no such thing as “an independent forensic voting audit”–not one that the Supervisor of Elections is legally required to provide, or to provide estimates about conducting one based on such vague and unprecedented parameters, though the ongoing “audit” of the presidential vote in Arizona, by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida cybersecurity firm that’s never done election auditing, has inspired many a would-be ninja to do likewise elsewhere.
Smith forwarded the Vitale email to Kaiti Lenhart, the Flagler Supervisor of Elections who ran the city’s special election and has been running flawless elections since she took over the office in 2015. Lenhart patiently explained the process: there is an audit coming. “We audit every election in Flagler County,” Lenhart wrote Vitale. “One race and one precinct are selected randomly by the Canvassing Board, and the paper ballots for the selected precinct and race are counted by hand. The purpose of the audit is to ensure the ballots match the tabulation totals.” (See the complete email thread here.)
The error rate between the hand-count and the automated count? “Absolutely zero, we’ve always had 100 percent in the last 12 years,” Lenhart said in an interview this evening. She was bemused by the request for a “forensic” audit. “I’m not even sure what that is.” At least not within the parameters of Florida law.
But election challenges in the Trump era are in a universe that parallels the law, or imagines its own, otherwise the Arizona “audit” would not have been necessary, coming as it did after some 60 legal decisions calling the election accurate and proper at every level of the judiciary, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
“An automated (software-based) independent audit can be used in Florida, but it must be approved by the Department of State, Division of Elections,” Lenhart told Vitale. “Flagler County does not use an automated system for auditing elections, we count the ballots by hand. This audit will be held on August 4, 2021 at 10:00 A.M. at the Elections Office in Bunnell. The meeting is open to the public and you are welcome to attend.”
Unsatisfied, Vitale then echoed social media chatter about an Alfin ally who had posted two days before the election that “the verdict” is in, based on mail-in ballots, which to Vitale (and many others on social media) raised the specter of an Alfin conspiracy that managed to stuff the mail-in ballots (even though Democrats actually did best in mail-ins, powering Cornelia Manfre, who came in third, close behind Lowe.) Lenhart said the statement was “a prediction and not a statement of fact,” and let him know she had “no intention of conducting an ‘Independent Forensic Voting Audit’ because such an activity is not authorized” by law. “Any associated costs and an estimated timeframe you have requested are impossible to produce, because a forensic voting audit process does not exist.” She again invited him to the lawful audit or even to meet with her.
By afternoon, Lenhart was receiving an extensive public-record request from Rebeckah Bennett, president of an Orlando company established six weeks ago as Enigma Intel Inc. for a slew of documents, starting with the supervisor’s office agreement with Palm Coast to run the election, then going on to the identities of “voter review panel members,” their party affiliation, lists of “precinct chairs names” (a request not in Lenhart’s purview: precinct chairpersons are determined by political parties), lists of poll watchers from all parties, and several other sets of figures. The requesting letter describes the company as “affiliated with a public interest group,” and as a non-profit “focused in Election Integrity and Humanitarian Efforts.”
The request doesn’t mention Lowe, referring to the “Mayoral race” on July 27. But the name of the pdf file where the requested items are listed does: “FOI-Lowe Mayoral Data.” Much of the requested information is meaningless: poll workers or anyone else involved in the running of the election have nothing to do with the ballots’ content, though the request letter appears to also cut-and-paste assumptions and that don’t apply in Florida, such as a request for data from “direct recording electronic voting systems,” or paperless balloting machines, which are now illegal in Florida. Bennett’s LinkedIn page, however, points to her history as a county Republican Party chairwoman in Georgia and a state committeewoman there until last April. She placed a limit of $25 on what she was willing to pay for the request.