West court battle could drag into 2013

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) indicated on Thursday that he might continue to pursue legal options if a circuit court rules on Friday against his request for a full recount.

West's request, for a full recount of all eight days of early voting in a county in the 18th district, is due to be heard in court on Friday.

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If the court rules against him, Democrat Patrick Murphy will likely be named the official winner of the race. But West has 10 days after the race is officially called to contest it.

On Thursday, he didn't rule out the prospect of continuing the battle.

"I think that the most important thing is that everyone knows across this county that something happened with those early-voting ballots. And if people don't want to do right by the American people, we will continue to stand and be a voice for them so that their fears and their concerns are still taken care of," he said.

West engaged in one of the nation's fiercest campaign fights, battling Murphy for Florida's 18th district.

Though Murphy declared victory last weekend and attended orientation events with newly elected lawmakers, West has refused to concede, and his campaign has filed a complaint in court calling for a full recount of all eight days of early voting in St. Lucie County, in southern Florida.

The St. Lucie County Canvassing Board did recount three days of early voting, due to a machine malfunction, and according to West's campaign, the voter count subsequently declined by nearly 800 ballots. 

That's enough of a discrepancy, the campaign says, to warrant a full recount of all eight days of early voting.

But even after the partial recount, Murphy led West by 1,907 votes, or .58 percentage points — just outside the .5 percentage point margin that would trigger an automatic recount.

So West has taken to the courts, first filing a request to impound ballots and voting machines, which was denied in a circuit court last week, and now the court complaint to be heard Friday.

The litigation, however, could go on far past Friday.

West has the option to contest the official results in court, after protesting the results before they're finalized, as he's been doing this week. Joshua Douglas, a University of Kentucky assistant professor of law, said West would have to prove to the court that the election officials engaged in misconduct, fraud or corruption, or that the winning candidate was ineligible to serve.

"A contest [of the election result] challenges the result based on some problem with the vote count; a lot of these have to do with provisional ballots, absentee ballots or something flawed with the counting process," he said.

West's campaign has said as much in multiple releases, in which campaign manager Tim Edson accused St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker of trying to "steal the election."

Past the immediate 10 days, West could continue to challenge any decisions in Murphy's favor and take the issue all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, or even to the floor of the Congress. Constitutionally, Congress is given the right to decide the makeup of its members.

But Douglas doesn't believe West's efforts will ultimately affect the outcome of the race.

"I think ultimately West loses this race, whether they decide to count the five extra days or not," he said, citing the margin of votes by which Murphy led at last count.

If West does continue to exhaust his legal options, the challenge could drag on long past the start of the next Congress, leaving Florida's 18th district without representation. Such was the case in Minnesota following the 2008 election, when Republican Sen. Norm Coleman challenged the election results in a court battle that didn't wrap until the end of June.

When asked whether he'd draw the challenge out through January, West declined to offer a clear path forward.

"I don't know — I mean, that's up to the legal folks, but we're gonna get the truth. That's what this is all about," he said.