The most significant–or at least telling–aspect of today’s meeting of the Palm Coast Canvassing Board in the wake of the July 27 special election for mayor was its attendance: other than a former county commissioner who used to sit on county canvassing board meetings, one observer, the three-member board itself and Elections Supervisor staff, no one showed up.
It was the clearest indication that for all the noise and muttering by followers of second-place finisher Alan Lowe following the election of David Alfin on Tuesday, there really is to be no contesting of the election. It was just noise, though some of Lowe’s partisans were raising the prospect of disputing the results and others were filing breathless public-record requests or demands for a “forensic audit” that doesn’t exist. Lowe hasn’t officially conceded and he’s not required to: the numbers speak for themselves. But today’s absence of any of his partisans spoke with its own clarity.
The Canvassing Board consists of Palm Coast City Clerk Virginia Smith and David Valinski, plus Michael Martin as an alternate. The city council appointed the board, as it was legally required to do, ahead of the election. Today’s meeting was the next-to-last. It was to go over 81 mail-in, provisional ballots that could not be counted before being judged by the board as valid or not, for various reasons: missing signatures, signatures that didn’t match those on file, mail-in ballots filled by a person different than the one the ballot was mailed to, and so on. The presumption is to give the weight of the evidence to the voter. Put another way, “you have to be beyond a reasonable doubt that this and this are two different people,” Lenhart said, indicating the example of two seemingly non-matching signatures.
The board, with Lenhart’s help, went through the ballots one by one. In one case, for example, the wife voted and signed the ballot that had been sent to her husband. But the wife had a request on file for a mail-in ballot, which made it obvious that she had met all the legal requirements, and the ballot difference was incidental, not intentional. The board counted her vote, so the envelope was opened and the ballot, face down, went to the bin that would eventually be run through a vote counting machine.
In another case, one voter filled out the right ballot, had the proper signature, but used the wrong envelope. The ballot was accepted. In a third, a voter signed the wrong ballot, which had been sent to his wife, and he did not have a request for a mail-in ballot on file. The ballot was rejected. Next came a ballot signed by someone other than the occupant to whom the ballot was sent–and by someone who was not a recognized member of that household. “No!” Smith immediately exclaimed, rejecting the ballot. There was no disagreement from Valinski.
And so it went, if not quite that quickly: the board bent over backward to give each ballot the benefit of the doubt. If one signature did not match, an elections worker in the role of a runner would go look for any other signatures on file for that person to see if an earlier one might match up with the one from the ballot, and the analysis would start all over again.
None of the board members or anyone else around the table or in the room looked or knew how the person voted–and no one really cared: that had nothing to do with that portion of the meeting’s intent. There would come a different portion when some ballots with badly filled in ovals or twice-filled ovals would come before the board members, who would then have to decide what to do with them. Depending on the outcome, the ballots, some of them unopened and still in their envelopes (if the ballot had been rejected outright) would finally end up in one of four envelopes, to later be sealed and preserved in accordance with Florida’s records law, until May 31, 2023, when they could be destroyed.
The canvassing board process is an integral part of the democratic machinery of legitimate, trust-worthy elections. But today’s meeting, for all its meticulousness, was not going to change results one way or the other no matter what. Alfin won with 36 percent of the vote and a nearly 1,800-vote margin from his next-closest challenger (Lowe), so there were nowhere near the number of ballots that could affect the outcome, even going down the ballot to the other candidates who garnered fewer votes. There was no chance, for example, for Cornelia Manfre to scale the 544-vote difference between her and Lowe, or even much chance that Carol Bacha, the mellifluous nun, could improve on her less-than-1 percent showing.
The next and last meeting of the board is on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at 10 a.m., when the board will actually audit the election by choosing one precinct and hand-counting every single ballot from that precinct. The results will then be compared with the machine count. It’s legally required, and it’s a way to verify that the machines did what they were supposed to do–that no one, or nothing, hacked or somehow altered numbers, something the supervisor says is inconceivable, based on security systems in place (diehard believers in “Italygate” aside).
Still, that meeting may yet draw the odd Lowe diehard who, echoing social media chatter, may believe that something went drastically wrong and the election results were “rigged.” (They were not.) When a former president continues to peddle the lie of a stolen election, it’s hardly surprising that his local partisans–Lowe tailored both his losing election runs Last year and this month on a Trumpist approach–would cling to that myth as an alternative to conceding that their man lost beyond all doubts.