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Palm Beach elections chief cutting back 24/7 operation

November 17,2018 09:14

TALLAHASSEE — The Palm Beach County supervisor of elections says her staff is just a few hours away from finishing a manual recount for the razor-thin race for U.S. Senate, but her office will no longer be able to operate on a 24-hour schedule.


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TALLAHASSEE — The Palm Beach County supervisor of elections says her staff is just a few hours away from finishing a manual recount for the razor-thin race for U.S. Senate, but her office will no longer be able to operate on a 24-hour schedule.
Susan Bucher told Tallahassee Federal Court Judge Mark Walker that old ballot-counting machines and an exhausted staff led her to dial back the workload to meet state-mandated deadlines.
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“We have been going at a pace of 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Bucher said during a Thursday evening court hearing. “And we will not be able to continue this pace moving forward."
Bucher’s testimony via telephone was part of a federal court case brought by Democrat state House candidate Jim Bonfiglio, who is just 37 votes behind GOP opponent Mike Caruso. The race is the closest of the four requiring recounts, but state law does not say whether the recount could be completed before the races for governor and agriculture commissioner.
Bucher’s office has been plagued by delays that have generated outrage from candidates and President Donald Trump. The Palm Beach Canvassing Board had considered prioritizing the state House race, but the law was too ambiguous.
Bucher blamed Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who oversees the state Division of Elections, for not offering any guidance.
“Our canvassing board was not sure what to do, and it’s because the secretary of state didn’t give any direction,” Bucher said.
Bucher’s office missed a Thursday deadline to give Detzner’s office a second set of unofficial race results. She said the recounts required for the races could be completed the week before Christmas.
“We will not be going 24/7 any more,” Bucher said. “It’s the machines but it’s staff — they’re tired, they haven’t eaten and they’re more likely to make mistakes.”
Bucher testified two hours after the campaign for Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson filed a lawsuit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court against Palm Beach County and Detzner that demanded Bucher’s office conduct a hand recount.
Nelson campaign lawyer Marc Elias said the hand recount of 588,598 ballots would likely be faster than Bucher’s current pace, saying her machines have failed.
Back in federal court, Bucher said her outdated ballot counting machines had been repaired and technicians are standing by on site.
“But they’re just like an old car — it overheats,” she said.
With no new vote counts, the totals Bucher’s office provided to Detzner for Thursday’s deadline were identical to what she submitted for a Nov. 10 deadline. The deadline for the final submission of race results is Sunday at noon, and Bucher expected to have the Senate manual recount completed sometime Friday. But she could not guarantee the other races.
Palm Beach County Canvassing Board lawyer Andrew Baumann told Walker the state law was ambiguous. And board members feared moving the House race to the front of the line would seem like favoritism.
“We thought it may give the appearance of cherry-picking,” Baumann said.
Walker said he would be willing to issue an order that allows them to prioritize the state House race. The results for the races for governor and agriculture commissioner may default to the submission from Nov. 10.
Walker’s order hinges on word from Detzner’s lawyer, who was told to submit a brief by Friday morning.
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