Circuit Judge Terry Lewis took a look at 42 questionable ballots to determine if they were properly rejected last month in the Senate District 27 Democratic primary pitting Jeff Clemens against Mack Bernard, who has contested his 17-vote loss to Clemens. After a review this morning, Lewis rejected Bernard’s bid.
“To be honest,” Judge Lewis is reported to have said, “there weren’t any that were really that close.”
Lewis had ordered the questionable ballots to be transported from Palm Beach County to his office for the review.
Many of the contested ballots were cast by Haitian voters. Planas argued they may have had difficulty discerning whether they should print or sign their names. Unlike previous races, no Creole language ballots were issued for the primary, a void that Planas said should have been taken into account by the canvassing board.
Lewis said the law on absentee ballots was clear. As a circuit judge, he could only compare the signatures on the ballot and registration to see if the canvassing board could have reasonably rejected the ballot.
After reviewing the questionable ballots Monday, Lewis agreed with the canvassing board on all 40 absentee ballots, even if he may have made different decisions in some cases.
“Maybe that is something you could take to the Legislature, but as far as I interpret it, I cannot say that there has been unreasonable discretion,” Lewis told Planas.
Provisional ballots were another matter. Lewis said he agreed with Planas that such provisional ballots may indeed be valid, but said the issue was moot because there were not enough provisional ballots in question to alter the outcome of the race.
Following Lewis’ rulings, Clemens’ attorney Ron Meyer told reporters he was confident the ruling would withstand appellate review. As winner of the Democratic primary, Clemens faces only a write in candidate in November, virtually assuring his election to the 40-member chamber.
“Anybody looking at the signatures on the absentee ballots and comparing them to the voter registration would clearly see that those are not the same signatures – the court readily conceded that they weren’t even close,” Meyer said. “We suspect that any kind of appeal would be dead on arrival at the appellate court.”
Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.