FORT PIERCE — Tens of thousands of ballots in one Florida county were painstakingly fed through scanners Saturday as U.S. Rep. Allen West clung to hope that a recount could keep the freshman Republican and conservative firebrand in Congress.
A judge allowed the recount to go forward in St. Lucie County over the objections of Democrat Patrick Murphy, the unofficial winner of the race. Though the recount is not mandated by state law because Murphy's margin of victory is above the legal threshold, St. Lucie Circuit Judge Larry Schack said either candidate could still formally contest the election if they believe it was unfair.
Both sides remained mum on their next possible legal move, the direction largely being determined by the recount's results.
"I don't know what's going to happen from here, quite frankly," Murphy attorney Sean Domnick said.
The unofficial tally has Murphy with a 50.3 percent share of the ballots, a 1,907-vote lead that is just above the half-percentage point threshold for a full recount. The Democrat is the winner in the eyes of the state and was in Washington, D.C., this week attending House orientation.
Still, West's campaign has charged all sorts of malfeasance in the counting of ballots. Election officials in St. Lucie County have acknowledged some errors and last Sunday conducted a partial recount of three days of early-voting ballots. It did little to quiet the cries of unfairness from West's most vocal supporters and the county's canvassing board agreed late Friday to recount the other five days of early ballots.
When they realized the ballots were no longer divided by the day they were cast, they decided to recount all 37,379 early-voting ballots.
Tim Edson, West's campaign manager, said his candidate was simply trying to make sure all votes were counted.
"Murphy's efforts bring to mind the dark times in our nation's history when politicians tried to manipulate the law to suppress the votes," he said.
Murphy's campaign has argued that some ballots have now been counted three times and that the outcome of the race isn't changing.
"You can't keep counting until you get the answer you like," Murphy spokeswoman Erin Moffet said.
Counties must file certified election results with the state by noon Sunday. Candidates can formally contest the election after that.
The race was one of the country's most expensive House contests and one of the most closely watched.
West, 51, is a first-term tea party favorite who has made a string of headline-grabbing statements, from calling scores 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.