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18-vote Safety Harbor cliffhanger triggers a recount

The canvassing board meets today to examine some ballots in the City Commission race.

By EILEEN SCHULTE, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008


SAFETY HARBOR - Just 18 votes.

That's the tiny margin that separated winner from loser in Safety Harbor's Seat 4 City Commission race at the end of the night Tuesday.

When the results came in, no one was more shocked than candidates Nina Bandoni and Robin Fornino, neither of whom had ever run for office before.

Bandoni got 2,670 votes. Fornino got 2,652.

Because there is a difference of less than half of 1 percent between the two, there will be an automatic recount, a first in recent Safety Harbor history and the only one in Pinellas County this election.

The canvassing board will meet at 1:30 p.m. today to open nine provisional ballot certificate envelopes.

The board also will examine 71 absentee ballots that registered as under-votes, meaning the voter did not make a selection in every race. For instance, if the voter circled the name of a candidate instead of marking it correctly, it would register as a no vote. But the canvassing board could choose to accept it.

"Now we have possibly 80 ballots to examine, and the cliffhanger continues!" City Clerk Cathy Benson wrote to Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold in an e-mail Wednesday.

The canvassing board will decide when to do the recount at today's meeting. That could happen immediately or within a few days.

The meetings are open to the public.

The board is made up of County Judge Patrick Caddell, Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart and Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark.

If Stewart could not attend the meeting, County Commissioner Calvin Harris would serve as a substitute.

It could take until Saturday for a winner to be announced.

On Wednesday, Bandoni spent the morning at home cleaning and organizing. She did not want to dwell on the recount.

"I'm kind of in the mode right now of taking each moment as it comes," she said.

Meanwhile, Fornino drove to her office, UBS Financial Services in Clearwater, as she does every day to help clients with their portfolios.

At the time, she wasn't aware of the likelihood of a recount and was at peace with the outcome of the election.

"I felt really good because I ran a very clean race," she said.

And when the city clerk called her and told her the news, her good feeling turned to elation.

"I'm glad the election is not over yet because it's not," she said. "I guess I wanted to make my mark and I did."

In the unlikely event the recount results in a tie, Benson said a member of the canvassing board would draw the winner's name from a hat "or suitable container."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at or 727 445-4153.

Fast facts

If you go

The canvassing board will meet at 1:30 p.m. todayto review ballots in the Safety Harbor City Commission Seat 4 race. The meeting is open to the public and will take place at the Supervisor of Elections' election service center in the Starkey Lakes Corporate Center, 13001 Starkey Road, Largo.

[Last modified January 31, 2008, 06:33:52]

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