Just when the two sides in Wellington’s bitterly fought March 13 election were starting to put aside their differences and move on, a “glitch” in the programming of the equipment used by the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office upended the results announced last week. Winners became losers and losers became winners. The healing that had begun? Open wounds yet again.
Thanks to the Supervisor of Elections Office, Wellington’s government now has a very serious legitimacy problem. Given how the current elections results came about, a significant portion of the population will not accept the outcome unless extraordinary means are used to prove that the latest count is the correct count. There needs to be another step here, and luckily, we have paper ballots for this very reason.
Given the statements of election officials, we’re relatively certain the most recent set of counts declaring Bob Margolis, Matt Willhite and John Greene the winners is accurate. However, to some on the losing side, this week’s results have just swapped one machine count for another. Wellington cannot take four years of a significant minority continually questioning the legitimacy of its elected officials. What is needed is a hand count of the ballots by an unbiased, outside observer. Doing so would instill confidence in the council that is about to be seated, giving it legitimacy to govern the village. Without that, this election will be brought up every time the council does something even remotely controversial over the next four years.
The problem is voter trust. After news broke Monday that the initial results were incorrect, it wasn’t long before conspiracy theories began circulating. And unless this is resolved properly, those theories — or at the very least, the ongoing doubt in the minds of some Wellington voters — will linger on. Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher has said this is the first time an error of this type has occurred, but no one has provided an acceptable explanation of exactly how the error occurred.
The question is how to get to the necessary hand recount. Bucher and attorneys have noted that in most circumstances, only a judge can order such a hand recount, most likely at the request of one of the candidates or of a Wellington voter who feels mistreated. We encourage a judge with the necessary authority to intervene and order such a count. While the Town-Crier has no desire to delay the seating of duly elected officials, the Wellington Village Council’s mandate to govern must take precedence. Dueling vote counts, two vote certifications and varying legal interpretations do not bode well for the election process.
This entire situation feeds into the feeling that government exists not in the sunshine but in backroom deals made behind closed doors. It’s hard enough to get people to take part in municipal elections under normal circumstances, and when there’s no trust in the voting process, voter turnout will surely suffer. We would recommend a hand recount for any election with questionable results. But given Palm Beach County’s history and reputation, this goes beyond a mere recommendation — it is a necessity. Until residents of Palm Beach County can feel that their votes count, they will continue to distrust the entire process. And that is a very bad thing for democracy.
The ballots are there. Look at them and count them.