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Council to recount votes

The Canvassing Board agrees to a partial recount in the mayoral primary.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- The City Council agreed Thursday to manually recount a portion of the votes in the city's mayoral primary, Florida's first major election since the November presidential fiasco.

City Council Chairman Larry Williams, who narrowly finished third and failed to advance to the March 27 general election, was put in the unusual spot of having to ask his fellow council members for the recount.

Attorney Rick Baker and council member Kathleen Ford were the top two vote-getters in the primary.

The five City Council members that make up the Canvassing Board -- Rene Flowers, Bill Foster, Richard Kriseman, Jay Lasita and Bea Griswold -- agreed to count 10 percent, or 3,712 of the ballots, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at the county's election offices on 49th Street N.

If the counters find enough discrepancies to influence the vote, it could trigger a recount of all votes in the mayoral primary.

Williams filed a written request with the Canvassing Board for a full manual recount when it convened to certify the election Thursday afternoon.

"As I'm sure you're aware, questions have arisen regarding the integrity and accuracy of the vote as recorded in our most recent election," Williams wrote.

Williams said November's error-prone presidential election demonstrated the flaws of punch-card technology, and it still hasn't been fixed.

He pointed out that 200 ballots in Tuesday's primary had more than one vote for mayor, and 87 ballots had no votes for mayor.

In addition, the race was close -- just 219 votes separated him from second-place winner Ford. An automatic machine recount would have been conducted if he had lost by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote, or about 185 votes.

Williams also said he noticed a discrepancy among poll workers. At one precinct, he said, they provided instructions on how to cast ballots, while at another they did not.

Ford, who did not participate on the Canvassing Board because she is a mayoral candidate, told reporters Thursday that Williams' request was reasonable and that she probably would have done the same thing.

The Canvassing Board, which has wide discretion in recount matters, clearly was struggling with Williams' request.

"Help me out here," Foster said. "I'd probably like a little more than vague allegations or the mere fact that it was close."

Canvassing Board members, mindful of problems in the November election, agreed to test the system and review a small sample of the ballots.

They authorized a recount of 10 percent of the primary votes. Under state law, Williams gets to pick three precincts from which the votes will be counted. Williams said Thursday he didn't know which precincts he would select.

"I think in all fairness we need to give him the extreme benefit of the doubt, until people's confidence is restored or we find a better way of doing it," Lasita said.

The Canvassing Board also set standards for the recount. They will count chads hanging by one corner, but they will not count dimpled chads, pregnant chads or those hanging by two or three corners.

City Council members expect to complete the count Saturday and reconvene Monday to decide the next move.

If the count drags on too long, it could jeopardize the March 27 general election. City Clerk Jane Brown said normally she would have begun printing the absentee ballots for the March 27 general election on Thursday.

A court-ordered recount of the vote in the 1993 election between Mayor David Fischer and former police Chief Ernest Curtsinger took two weeks.

As he left Thursday's meeting, Foster said he did not think the recount would change anything.

"Having witnessed the . . . election process in November, it's pretty strange that now I'm going to be a part of a similar process of sitting there, holding a ballot up to the light, and there's a lot riding on that," Foster said. "It's just life imitating life."

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