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Three GOP candidates seek Hillsborough election recount

Election results, certified last week, showed the trio lost by a combined 124,000 votes. Their legal challenge provides no evidence warranting a recount.
 
Peg Reese, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections chief of staff, brings in a collection of vote by mail ballots as officials began canvassing mail and provisional ballots Nov. 6 at the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center. Three Republican candidates are suing Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer over his office's handling of mail ballots.
Peg Reese, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections chief of staff, brings in a collection of vote by mail ballots as officials began canvassing mail and provisional ballots Nov. 6 at the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center. Three Republican candidates are suing Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer over his office's handling of mail ballots. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 18, 2020

TAMPA — Three failed Republican candidates are suing Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, asserting potentially flawed handling of mail ballots may have affected the outcome of their Nov. 3 races.

Scott Levinson, who lost a bid for the District 1 Hillsborough County Commission to Democrat Harry Cohen; Sally Harris, who was defeated by Democrat Lynn Gray for the District 7 Hillsborough County School Board seat, and Christine Quinn who lost to US. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, in the race for the District 14 Congressional seat, filed suit Tuesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court seeking a recount of mail ballots.

Combined, the three Republicans lost their races by more than 124,000 votes. Latimer’s office certified the election results on Nov. 13.

The lawsuit contends the vote totals need further scrutiny because voters were confused over required signatures on both the mail ballot and envelope. Some ballots may have needed to be rejected over signature issues, the suit states. It also contends Latimer’s office sent ballots to people who were deceased.

“The necessity to review ballots is abundantly clear,” the suit states. “Under the unique circumstances of a pandemic, inability of poll workers to evaluate a voter in person, the known examples of fraud and the probability that a substantial number of mail-in ballots were fraudulently submitted, it is necessary to confirm the results of this election.”

Elections officials routinely remove deceased voters from their voter rolls. But if a voter who typically votes by mail has died and the elections office has not been informed of their death, it’s possible they could receive a ballot in the mail. However, there are still safeguards — notably a requirement that the signature on the ballot envelope matches the signature on file — to stymie fraud and to keep people other than the voter from casting a ballot.

The complaint, filed by Tampa attorney Dov Sussman, cites no specific “known examples of fraud” nor does it include names of deceased persons who allegedly received ballots in the mail or proof that ballots were submitted in their names.

Latimer spokeswoman Gerri Kramer declined comment Wednesday morning, saying the office had not yet been served with the complaint.

The lawsuit states each of the three Republican candidates “showed significant strength” in early voting and on Election Day, but “lost the election due to the large influx of mail-in ballots.”

That argument, however, appears applicable only to Levinson, who lost by 2,655 votes to Cohen. Without mail ballots, Levinson led Cohen by more than 16,000 votes.

"I have complete confidence in the supervisor of elections,'' said Cohen, who declined further comment.

Quinn had a 550-vote advantage over Castor out of 50,800 ballots cast on Election Day. But the incumbent had a more than a 7,000-vote lead when early voting results were included. Castor crushed her opponent in mail balloting for a final margin of victory of more than 76,000 votes.

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Likewise, Gray led Harris by nearly 2,500 votes even without the vote-by-mail totals included. Her eventual margin of victory reached more than 45,000 votes.

"They have every right to ask for a recount,'' Gray said, declining further comment.

Harris declined comment.

The lawsuit does not cite examples of voter confusion.

Latimer previously said six employees worked full-time to “cure” defective mail ballots that otherwise would have gone uncounted — ballots with unsigned envelopes or signatures that didn’t match voter records. Five days before Election Day, he said 815 mail ballots had been received with signature problems and workers had cured 354 of them. That was out of 288,350 total mail ballots returned at that point.

“When you have 99.9 percent doing it correctly, that’s not bad,” Latimer said then.

Times staff writer Allison Ross contributed to this story.