The Palm Coast Canvasing Board met this morning for the last time to conduct a legally-required manual count of one precinct’s total votes in the July 27 special election for mayor. As expected, the audit produced no discrepancies.
“The difference across is zero,” Palm Coast City Clerk Virginia Smith said at the end of the audit, meaning that the machine-count result and the hand-count matched, 100 percent. The count had taken less than an hour.
The board consists of Smith and David Valinski, with alternate member Michael Martin. Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart is not a member of the board, but her office ran the election, the office has custody of the ballots until May 31, 2023–when they will be destroyed–and Lenhart sat with the board to provide any needed guidance.
Actually, 11 people sat around the table, among them former County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, a veteran of canvassing board service on the county’s side, Janet Sullivan, who heads the local democratic party, and a couple of members of the local Republican Liberty Caucus, a pre-cursive variant of the “Flagler Liberty Coalition,” an extremist group. The coalition/caucus backed Alan Lowe, one of the losing candidates in the mayoral race, has signaled not only displeasure with the results, but also some intentions to contest the numbers.
David Alfin won the election with 36 percent of the vote. Lowe was second with 27, Cornelia Manfre was third with 24. Doug Courtney, Kathy Austrino and Carol Bacha also ran. Manfre is not contesting the results, but rather embracing Alfin’s mayorship (she congratulated him publicly at his first City Council meeting Tuesday evening). Lowe has not publicly contested the results, but he hasn’t discouraged partisans from complaining or raising bogus claims of an irregular election, either.
State law requires every election to be audited, with a hand-count of one chosen precinct in all races. The one chosen today at random by the board was Precinct 14, Palm Coast Bible Church. Three thick stacks of paper ballots, one of them about half a foot thick, sat at the edge of the counting table. Those were the mail-in ballots, the early voting ballots and the Election Day ballots, all separated out according to votes: the Alfin batches grouped together, the Lowe batches grouped, and so on.
The board and Lenhart sat at one end of the table. The two elections office employees assigned the hand-counting were at the other, taking stacks of ballots in turn and counting them. The people in attendance sat or stood nearby in the near-total silence of the room as the counting proceeded. The silence was broken only by the rhythmic sound of paper sheets getting counted, the occasional announcement of the totals, or the counters’ mention of the candidates’ names.
Caucus members stood by, pen and pads in hand, as if on the lookout perfidy, their presence and their pads alone communicating mistrust, unrequited though it was in an office where flawlessness and accuracy has been the order of election days for years. Such audits have come in with 100 percent accuracy for at least a dozen years.
So it was today. By the time the count was done, Alfin–in that particular precinct–still had 442 votes, Lowe 412, Manfre 350, Courtney 96, Austrino 36, and Bacha 20. The numbers matched line-by-line the numbers of the machine count, as Smith enumerated the hand-count results for each candidate, Lenhart tabulated them, and Valinski verified them against the machine count–“That’s correct,” “that’s right,” “correct.” (The exercise evoked one of Chevy Chase’s famous Weekend Update jokes from the early days of Saturday Night Live: “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.”)
Both the supervisor’s office and Smith’s have continued to receive public record requests from the likes of those in attendance today, among them Rebeckah Bennett, who identifies herself as the president of a two-month-old Orlando company called Enigma Intel Inc. that looks into election procedures. She’d made her first request within hours of the election, then followed it with three more, including one that would require the supervisor’s office to check every mail-in ballot’s postmark and report which were from out of town. It’s not uncommon for voters to mail in their ballots from elsewhere: it’s how mail-in ballots largely started (as absentee ballots). The request, however, would require some six hours of work, according to Lenhart, and cost about $245. Bennett has also requested the board’s full canvassing book of documents and documentation from a 2016 grant, among other items, while another man in attendance has encouraged partisans to send in requests of their own. The requests have been keeping both Lenhart and Smith busy fulfilling them.
The lugubrious disappointment of the coalition platoon contrasted with the more relaxed atmosphere of the office in general, especially after the count was done. Martin had bought a dozen roses to distribute to board members and staffers at the elections office, and finished handing them out after adjournment, the last one going to Sullivan. “I just wanted to thank everybody,” Martin said. “I had to check with my girlfriend to make sure it wasn’t inappropriate. She’ll get a fresh dozen.”
The canvassing board had convened at 10 a.m. on the dot. It adjourned at 10:58.
“Thank you for a wonderful election,” Smith told Lenhart after the meeting.
The cost of the special election so far is $123,000. Lenhart is expecting two more invoices. “It shouldn’t be more than $130,000,” she said.