Thomson wins Boca city council seat after lengthy recount

Updated Aug 31, 2018
Canvassing Board members Judge Bradley Harper (left), Judge August Bonavita and Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher examine a ballot during a recount in the Boca Raton City Council Seat A race Friday, August 31, 2018. The canvassing board was looking at ballots that prompted an objection from an observer during the manual recount. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

A box of once-missing ballots and hours of closely examining hundreds of other ballots by hand Friday yielded a win for now-Boca Raton Councilman Andy Thomson.

Thomson, an attorney, maintained a narrow lead throughout a time-consuming recount that decided a close city council race. The elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, ran 18,000 ballots through voting machines for the second time and staff counted by hand 1,518 of them.

Neither Thomson nor his opponent, Kathy Cottrell, were at the Riviera Beach elections warehouse for the recount, but supporters and campaign consultants appeared on their behalf to watch the process.

Thomson led by 32 votes before a manual recount. Bucher couldn’t immediately determine a final margin because the office had to run some ballots through voting machines for a third time to calculate a total.

Thomson, reached by phone Friday, said the close race captures a rift in the city — one he hopes to repair.

“I have to work with everyone, that includes Kathy. She ran a fantastic race that until just now was neck-and-neck,” Thomson said shortly after the recount concluded. “It demonstrates we have a bit of division in our city that needs to be reconciled. That’s what I hope to start working on right away.”

Thomson, an attorney, takes a swing seat on the city council poised to make decisions about development, parking and traffic, among other issues.

Cottrell, who ran on a low-growth platform, could not immediately be reached for comment, but posted a statement on her campaign Facebook page thanking supporters and encouraging them to stay involved.

“I am hopeful that our local government leaders will give of their best in representing the citizens of the City of Boca Raton. That they will work diligently, honestly, fervently to ensure their constituents’ voice, hopes and concerns are attended to,” Cottrell wrote.

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, who endorsed Cottrell in the race and watched the recount in Riviera Beach, said Cottrell fought hard and would have made a great councilwoman.

“I hope Andy will follow through on his campaign promises for the greater good and the quality of life in our community,” O’Rourke said.

Before the recount began Friday morning, the elections supervisor said she discovered a missing box of ballots. It included 16 Boca Raton ballots that previously weren’t counted. Nine of those votes went to Thomson.

Supervisor Susan Bucher said the box mysteriously turned up in the elections warehouse. Three other ballots were missing without explanation. The envelopes were discovered, but the ballots themselves never turned up.

“We just don’t know (what happened to them),” Bucher said.

In the end, the three votes wouldn’t have made a difference in the race. Thomson led by 32 votes before 10 staff members examined by hand the 1,518 ballots.

The recount took about five hours. The county canvassing board, made up of Bucher and circuit Judges August Bonavita and Bradley Harper, examined more than a dozen contested ballots identified by Cottrell or Thomson’s campaign volunteers.

With candidate volunteers watching over their shoulders, elections staff hand-counted votes. Volunteers objected if they believed a vote was counted wrong.

Some of the ballots were spotted with Wite-Out or had incomplete markings. One ballot had a large sticker in the center and wouldn’t register on the voting machine. On another ballot, a voter scribbled all over the page and wrote, “I should have a written option,” which Bonavita read aloud.

Some of those ballots were counted while others weren’t.