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Pasco recount: Much ado over three votes

DADE CITY — Last week, news crews zeroed in on a recount that ousted a future House speaker. This week, politicos have their eyes trained on a Treasure Coast recount that could turn U.S. Rep. Allen West out of office.

But, hey, there's a recount here in Pasco County, too!

The office: Lexington Oaks Community Development District, SEAT 2.

After 2,178 neighborhood voters cast their ballots in the Nov. 6 election, Bob Hendrick led neighbor Ray Dolente by a mere three votes.

"Was this a hotly contested race?" said Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. "Is this like a Bush/Gore 2000 thing?"

Hendrick smiled: "No, nothing like that." No campaign signs. No nasty accusations from either candidate.

"Actually, it was a very quiet campaign," he said. "I guess it was a lot of face-to-face for both me and Ray."

Only Hendrick and fellow board member Peter Henzel showed up for Wednesday's recount at the elections service center in Dade City. Dolente is on vacation in Orlando and said he trusted officials to properly conduct the process.

The day began with Dolente picking up one vote from an overseas military ballot. Corley then explained how different groups of ballots would be reviewed.

"I'd prefer anything but a tie because then it gets a little interesting," he said.

Election office lawyer Dan Dwyer said, "The last time we had that, I think we flipped a coin."

Besides Corley and Dwyer, about 10 members of Corley's staff helped count the ballots.

A court reporter recorded the proceedings. A county commissioner and judge were on hand as part of Pasco's election canvassing board.

A sheriff's deputy even showed up to keep the peace. You know how feisty CDD elections can get.

"All of this," Hendrick said, holding his arms wide. "I almost feel bad."

CDD board members aren't paid, but it's not a pointless job. The quasigovernmental agency handles an annual budget of more than $1 million that comes from homeowner assessments.

That money is used to repair and maintain common areas such as a swimming pool and a new fitness center. Money also helps hire off-duty sheriff's deputies for patrol and for landscaping along Lexington Oaks Boulevard.

"That's hugely important," he said. "It's nice to know when you come into a community that it looks nice and it looks like it's well maintained."

Back in the elections center, staffers fed all of the ballots through tabulation machines as part of the automatic recount. Dolente picked up one more vote. The tiny margin triggered a manual recount.

Most people think that requires reviewing all of the ballots by hand. It doesn't. Staffers and canvassing board members only look at so-called undervotes and overvotes.

Undervotes are easy. Most of the time, that means a voter simply didn't vote in that race.

Overvotes are more tricky. This race had two such ballots.

Both ballots had full circles next to Hendrick's name. Canvassing board members decided that small marks next to Dolente's name were not enough to show a vote for both candidates. Two votes went to Hendrick.

After all the hullabaloo, the final margin remained the same: three votes. Corley shook Hendrick's hand and congratulated him.

Reached afterward, Dolente laughed when offered condolences.

"Life goes on," he said. "We're both trying to do what's right for the community. I feel fortunate I got as many votes as I got. Sure, I'd like to have won. But what it is, it is."

Pasco recount: Much ado over three votes 11/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 8:45pm]
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