Communication Builds Our Community

Complex Ballot Review Involved in Determining City Election Results After One-Vote Difference

Race Between Williams, Alvarado Comes Down to Handful of Provisional Ballots, Recount

A one-vote margin in a Lake Wales election between incumbent Commissioner Daniel Williams and challenger Brandon Alvarado has cast a bright light upon the processes required in the situation by city ordinance and Florida statutes that Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson called "unbelievably complicated."

The three-way race for a new three-year term on the District 2 seat of the city commission ended Tuesday with Williams and Alvarado as the top two vote-getters collecting 939 and 938 votes, respectively, a difference of .04 percent. A third candidate, Crystal Higbee, took 347 votes. Those "complicated" Florida statutes apparently call for an initial machine recount of the votes.

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City Commissioner Daniel Williams eked out a one-vote lead from more than 2,300 ballots cast in the municipal election Tuesday, but his will cannot be certified until actions by the canvassing board and a machine recount of all ballots.

Canvassing Board to Meet, Review Ballots

A city canvassing board will meet at 5:00 p.m. Thursday to address a handful of ballots that could make a difference in the race. That canvassing board, consisting of Mayor Jack Hilligoss, Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson, and Commissioner Keith Thompson, will review three provisional ballots issued at the precincts on election day, and another six mail ballots that could also still count if the voters complete the "cure" process by the meeting start time. That involves the voter showing up with correct documentation to prove that the signature on the envelope is theirs.

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Brandon Alvarado is awaiting the results of a recount to determine whether he has captured a seat on the city commission.

"We need to be very careful," Gibson told fellow board members at the end of Wednesday's commission meeting. "We need to do this absolutely right," he said, before sharing a story of a 1996 county commission election that was reversed after months of legal wrangling and a court-ordered recount.

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Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson cautioned his fellow canvassing board members Mayor Jack Hilligoss and Commissioner Keith Thompson to "be very careful" in conducting the review of a handful of ballots that could tip the election either way.

"Knowing my fellow canvassing board members, we aren't going to certify anything" until we are absolutely sure, Gibson said. "There's too much division as it is."

Gibson added a forceful plea for a change in the city charter to allow runoff elections, saying "I have long favored runoffs. I sure wish we had a runoff in this race." Gibson said that the decision would be made by citizens, instead of the potential for a coin-flip, which is obnoxious to me."

"There are towns in Polk County that have run-offs," Gibson continued, saying that he had looked into the matter and the cost was "not that expensive."

"When you have a runoff, you always have people that are elected by a majority of those voting...which is good for the community. We need to operate on a consensus."

The mayoral election two years ago ended with current Mayor Jack Hilligoss elected with 43.75 percent of the vote.

"Every vote counts and we learned that lesson emphatically last night," Gibson said

Provisional ballots are issued if the voter lacks proper photo identification or appears to be improperly registered, according to election officials. They allow the voter to complete a ballot, but it remains sealed and can't be added to the total unless the canvassing board accepts the documentation.

Even if all those nine ballots were accepted and go to one candidate, it is apparent that there will be at least a machine recount of all ballots cast in the race.

The city ordinance provides that if "a candidate was defeated or eliminated by one-half of one percent or less of the votes cast...the canvassing board shall order a recount of the votes cast."

If the difference after the machine recount remains less than one-quarter percent, there will likely be a "manual recount," according to Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, as that is provided in Florida Statute.

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Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards clarified the requirements of city ordinances and state statutes related to close elections, which are defined as less than one-half of one percent, or .50 percent. The city election stands at .04 percent, with a single vote separating the incumbent and challenger.

Edwards explained that "in a manual recount the canvassing board reviews each ballot that was 'outstacked' previously by the voting machine during the machine recount to establish if they can determine any intent by a voter."

According to Edwards, common reasons that ballots are outstacked include an overvote, an undervote, a minimal mark in an oval, a damaged ballot is damaged, or an erasure.

Texts and Links to Relevant City Ordinance and Florida Statute Below

City Charter References on the Conduct of Elections

(c) Conduct of elections. Except as otherwise provided by this charter, the provisions of the general election laws of the State of Florida shall apply to elections held under this charter. All elections provided for by the charter shall be conducted by the election authorities established by law. For the conduct of municipal elections, for the prevention of fraud in such elections, and for the recount of ballots in cases of doubt or fraud, the commission may adopt by ordinance all regulations which it considers desirable, consistent with law and this charter, and the election authorities may adopt, and if they adopt shall publicize, further regulations consistent with law and this charter and the regulations of the commission.

City Ordinances on Elections, Recounts

§ 8-27. - Recounts.

(a) In its discretion, the canvassing board, may order a recount of the returns of any election prior to the certification of the results.

(b) If the returns for any office reflect that a candidate was defeated or eliminated by one-half of one percent or less of the votes cast for such office, that a commissioner subject to recall was retained or not retained by one-half of one percent or less of the votes cast on the question of recall, or that an issue appearing on the ballot was approved or rejected by one-half of one percent or less of the votes cast on such measure, the canvassing board shall order a recount of the votes cast with respect to such office or issue. A recount need not be ordered with respect to the returns for any office, however, if the candidate or candidates defeated, recalled or eliminated from contention for such office request in writing that a recount not be made. The canvassing board shall examine the counters on the machines or the tabulation of the ballots cast in each precinct in which the office or issue appeared on the ballot and determine whether the returns correctly reflect the vote cast. If there is a discrepancy between the returns and the counters of the machines or the tabulation of the ballots cast, the counters of such machines or the tabulation of the ballots cast shall be presumed correct and such votes shall be canvassed accordingly.

(c) Upon request of any candidate for good cause shown, the canvassing board may, prior to the final certification of results, order a recount in whole or in part of the election in which the candidate participated. Upon request of any elector for good cause shown, the canvassing board may, prior to final certification of results, order a recount of any issue election.

Relevant Florida Statutes are viewable here


Reader Comments(1)

Nonanita writes:

On several occasions, Mayor Hilligoss publicly endorsed one of the candidates, Daniel Williams. Is it ethical for him to be part of the Canvassing board. Surely he should recuse himself.

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