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Recount suit goes before judge today

February 11, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Three months after the closest mayoral election in the city's history, former Caper Coral Mayor John Sullivan will have his day in court today when he and his attorney will ask a judge to order a recount of the Nov. 5 mayoral election.

Judge Alane Laboda will hear the case at the Lee County Court-house starting at 9 a.m. The judge has carved out two days on her docket to hear the testimony.

At stake is whether the former mayor will get his recount. Because he lost by more than the half-percent threshold to trigger an automatic recount, he would have to pay for the recount with his own money.

Sullivan lost the election to current Mayor Marni Sawicki by 121 votes. Sullivan carried the most votes among Election Day voters and among absentee voters, but lost by more than a 13 percentage point margin from early voters, and in some precincts by as much as a 2-1 margin.

A week later, Sullivan, along with five other plaintiffs (including former City Councilmember Bill Deile, former mayoral candidate David Carr, and three city residents), filed suit to demand a recount of the election results.

The suit contends there was miscounduct on the part of election officials; the acceptance of illegal votes and rejection of legal votes to potentially sway the outcome; that the number of absentee and early votes were fraudulently presented; and defects with the voting system.

The trial was originally Jan. 7, however Laboda sanctioned Leigh Fisher, Sullivan's attorney, for not sharing certain information during discovery and set new dates for today and Thursday.

Sullivan and his team of lawyers and volunteers met with Lee County Election officials last week to review the absentee and early ballots, as well as 11 of the 30 precincts, many of which had the wide spread in the early voting

Sullivan contends that margin could be more than an anomaly. He also contends that the composition of the canvassing board may have been wrongly constituted and that neither the city charter nor Florida statutes addresses how such boards should be in citywide elections.

The canvassing board consisted of supervisor of elections Sharon Harrington, city clerk Rebecca Van Duetekom and City Councilmember Rana Erbrick.

He also wants a better accounting of the ballots through a better audit trail.

Sawicki was in Washington, D.C. ,and unavailable to comment. When asked if he thought his side would prevail, Mark Herron, Sawicki's attorney, was adamant.

"I wouldn't be here if we didn't think we had a good case. The burden isn't on me to prove anything. That's why they're plaintiffs," Herron said.

Sullivan on Thursday said he was confident that, even if he doesn't get a recount, if the election process is changed, it would make things more transparent and less susceptible to error.



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