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Mayoral ballot review concludes

February 6, 2014
Lehigh Acres Citizen

The court-ordered two-day review of the November Cape Coral mayoral election ended Wednesday at the Lee Elections Center in South Fort Myers, with former mayor John Sullivan's team looking over the results from 11 election day precincts where the election day and early voting results differed greatly.

The review of the absentee and provisional ballots was completed downtown late Wednesday morning before reconvening at 1 p.m. at the election center with a look at the Election Day ballots from precincts 28, 29, 35, 92, 99, 103, 109, 110, 113, 114 and 116.

Sharon Harrington, Lee County Elections supervisor, said things went well on her end.

"What we found out is that everything went well. The numbers seem to match and that's a good thing. That was what they were looking for," Harrington said. "It just solidifies the fact we work diligently to make sure all elections are handled properly."

Sullivan said the selection of those precincts were no accident.

"There were things we looked for as far as the numbers that were abnormal. We looked in areas where the numbers were strange," Sullivan said. "The early voting was out of whack and the mail and election day ballots were different. I don't know if we'll ever figure out why."

There were 3,208 ballots in the 11 districts in question. Current mayor Marni Sawicki won eight of them in Election Day voting. The final count was 1,647 for Sawicki, 1,552 for Sullivan, a margin of 95 votes.

When looking at those same precincts in early voting, the numbers in those 1,145 votes are even more stark, according to David Carr, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit pertaining to the election.

Sawicki won early voting in those districts by a combined 707-438 margin, with 61.7 percent of the vote. Sullivan won just one district, with Sawicki winning several by a nearly two-to-one margin.

Overall, Sawicki won in early voting by a 2,033 to 1,562 margin, collecting 56.5 percent of the vote, according to Lee Elections numbers.

Not only did the numbers show a wide disparity for Sawicki, Carr said, but also showed an unusual amount of early voting activity, especially in areas near the polling place and around city hall.

"The unions seemed to get out the vote in a big way," Carr said.

The review was conducted in the same room where the voting machines were stored. The machines from the precincts in question were rolled out, the ballots from Election Day still in the machines.

The ballots, which have been sealed in the machines since Election Day, were reopened in numerical order. The process was much the same as Tuesday, with one election official showing Sullivan's representatives the actual ballot while another tallied the vote.

Sullivan's people were not allowed to touch the ballots, nor were they able to speak.

Sullivan, along with his attorney, Leigh Fisher, were on hand to observe.

As per a court order, the review had to be finished by 5 p.m. It was finished at 4:30.

Tuesday, Sullivan and about 20 others were in the elections office looking at 3,595 early-voting ballots, 2,378 absentee ballots, and a handful of provisional ballots.

Sullivan was very happy with the way the process was handled, adding he didn't know for sure where the process goes from here.

"It went pretty smooth. The employees here were very organized and did a great job. My volunteers worked with them," Sullivan said. "We haven't looked at the numbers yet and we'll see what happens. I'll talk to my attorney and see what he says and I'm sure the other attorneys want to get together as well."

Despite her confidence in the way her office did their job, Harrington said she still expects the case to go to trial on Feb. 12 and 13, where Sullivan will seek an official recount.

"I think they still want to pursue it. I haven't heard anything differently," Harrington said. "It would be nice if we didn't have to, but we're ready for it."

Harrington said Sullivan's camp wanted to know about voter history shortly after the election, which is done on an entirely different machine. She also said the Sullivan camp was concerned how the canvassing board was composed.

"Results of voter history doesn't take overvotes and undervotes into consideration. We have a person who voted, but it may not have counted," Harrington said. "Some have their address withheld on their file, like firefighters and police."

Sullivan lost the overall election to Sawicki by 121 votes. According to Harrington, Sullivan won the absentee ballots and Election Day voting, but lost in early voting, prompting him to seek a recount through the courts on the grounds of possible improprieties.

Sawicki was present for the review briefly on Tuesday. She was not present Wednesday and did not return calls for comment.

Since Sullivan lost the election by more than the half-percentage point necessary to trigger and automatic recount, he would have to pay for the recount himself, as well as the review he has undertaken.



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