Election officials missed a deadline Sunday to report results of a two-day recount in GOP Rep. Allen West's race to remain in Congress, apparently sealing unofficial results giving the win to Democrat Patrick Murphy.
Though St. Lucie County did not meet a noon cutoff to finish processing 37,379 ballots cast early in the District 18 congressional election, it eventually released the results, which showed Murphy actually gaining votes in the recount. Regardless, under Florida law, previously submitted results favoring Murphy will be certified unless an emergency exemption is granted by the state.
"It puts an end to it as far as we're concerned," said Eric Johnson, a Murphy adviser. "It puts an end to it as far as the state's concerned."
Before the county finally released the results of the recount, West's attorneys toyed with trying to ascertain an emergency prevented the timely filing, a tall task given the way the law is written. Because Murphy made a net gain of 274 votes, the issue was likely moot. But West's campaign showed no immediate sign of backing down or offering a concession.
"At this time, in our view, the race is still undecided," said West campaign manager Tim Edson.
West can still seek a formal contest of the election, a difficult legal remedy. His aides gave no indication whether they would pursue such action. Dejected supporters of the congressman claimed there was fraud, loudly chanting "Count our votes!" before election officials. Murphy's supporters held signs reading "Respect the Results: Concede Now" and "Patrick Won!"
In a statement, West said his campaign would review the recount results and other data "to determine how to proceed."
The Murphy campaign, which has been proclaiming the Democrat the victor since the wee hours of Election Night, said that the law was clear and that the political newcomer would be certified the winner. A spokesman for the Secretary of State's office did not return a call seeking comment. Heather Young, an assistant St. Lucie County attorney, said she did not anticipate being able to prove an emergency prevented the timely filing of returns.
A recount of three days of early voting ballots was conducted in St. Lucie County last week, narrowing Murphy's margin a bit. The county's canvassing board ultimately agreed to retabulate all eight days of ballots after several errors were made public and West's supporters made a relentless push for a fuller recount. The campaign hoped Murphy's margin of victory would decrease enough to force a machine recount of all ballots across the entire three-county district.
The race was the country's most expensive House contests and one of the most closely watched. The two sides had raised nearly $21 million as of Oct. 17, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, and Super PACs poured in about $6.6 million.
West, 51, is a first-term tea party favorite and one of only two black Republicans in the House. He has made a string of headline-grabbing statements, from calling a majority of congressional Democrats communists to saying President Barack Obama, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and others should "get the hell out of the United States."
Murphy, 29, is a political newcomer who portrayed West as an extremist who has done little else in Washington than stoke partisan fires.