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Rooks-Bell race narrows to 4 votes

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Machine recount 9 a.m. Friday

By Ashley Thornton, Staff Writer and Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The margin of victory narrowed to four votes but has not changed the outcome in the County Commmission District 4 race after the Levy County Canvassing Board tallied nine of fourteen provisional ballots. The board also rejected counting five provisional ballots for various reasons — including those of two people who had voted absentee and attempted to vote at the polls. 

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The unofficial vote count in the District 4 race is 1,728 for former Commissioner Lilly Rooks and 1,724 for incumbent Commissioner Ryan Bell. Aftr Tuesday's primary tally the two were separated by five votes.

In addition, the margin in the County Commission District 2 race narrowed, but did not change the outcome. The tally after couting the provisional votes had 1,740 votes for Rock Meeks to 1,705 for incumbent Commissioner Chad Johnson.

Because the margin in the District 4 race falls within 0.5 percent of the total vote there will be a machine recount beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 29,  at the Levy County Supervisor of Elections office. Supervisor Tammy Jones said the manual recount — which only involves the recounting of ballots that machines did not count because a voter marked more than one name in a race or did not vote in a particular race, will be at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the County Commission meeting room in the County Courthouse. The reason for Tuesday's change of location is that the state requires an audio record of the manual recount and the commission room is outfitted for audio recording. 

Most of the canvassing board's work on Thursday was devoted to comparing voters' signatures on provisional paperwork and voter registration records. If a poll worker believes there is a problem with a voter casting a ballot — such as not showing proper identification, moving into a district after the registration books close 29 days before an election or change of party registration, they can require a voter cast a provisional ballot. 

Voters in Tuesday's party primaries had until 5 p.m. Thursday to show they were able to cast a ballot. If the voter did not present evidence they were qualified to vote, it was up to the canvassing board to determine if the voter was qualified to cast a ballot. There were eight Republican ballots, four Democrat ballots and two No Party Affiliation ballots among the provisionals.

In two instances — one a Democrat and another a Republican, the board determined that the signatures on absentee ballots matched those of the people attempting to cast ballots in Tuesday's elections and those votes provisional ballots filed at the polls were rejected.

In one instance, a Republican ballot, a signature did not match the one on record; in another the signature of the last name did not match so the NPA ballot was disqualified.

A person who tried to vote Democrat although their registration was Republican also had their provisional ballot rejected.

Several of the provisional ballots were from voters who had moved into Levy County but not changed their registration. Almost all of those provisional ballots were counted. Jones explained that because voter registration is at the state level, a voter can move after the closing of the books and still vote.

In another instance a voter's name on their identification did not match their name on voter rolls because the identification was in their maiden name. That vote counted because the signatures matched.

In the end, five Republican ballots, three Democrat bellots and one NPA ballots were run through the machine and added to the vote totals.  

EARLIER STORY:

If one thing is clear in the results of Tuesday's elections it's that Levy County is divided over the direction it wants to go.

The results are unofficial but with all 13 precincts reporting, former County Commissioner Lilly Rooks defeated incumbent Commissioner Ryan Bell by five votes in the District 4 race for the Republican nomination and Rock Meeks defeated incumbent Commissioner Chad Johnson by 39 votes to win the Republican nomination for District 2.

Those results could change as the Supervisor of Elections Office reportedly has 14 provisional ballots and state law calls for an automatic recount in races where there is a margin of 0.5 percent of less. A spokeswoman for Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones said checks were being done on the vote.

Adding to the suspense is the introduction of new voting machines. Jones purchased the machines two years ahead of the mandated change for 2016 elections. She said she would like to use them this year to stave off any problems ahead of the voter heavy 2016 presidential elections.

In unofficial results Rooks had a 5-vote lead over Bell with 1,726 to 1,721, and Meeks was leading by 38 votes over Johnson with 1,739 to 1,701. 

The District 4 race for the Republican nomination was a replay of the 2010 general election as Rooks battled to regain the seat she lost to Bell. For Rooks, the race was complicated by two strokes she suffered in the spring and summer limiting her public appearances.

For Meeks, while he is new to county politics, this is not his first foray into politics, having won election as a town councilman in Otter Creek when he was 18.

Before the unofficial tally was released Meeks said, "Right now I'm humble, that's what I am. That's my thoughts right now ... the Lord willing, our hard work will pay off." After the results shwed him winning, Meeks said, "I'm overwhelmed... I don't know. It's a lot of emotions. Didn't expect it to be so close... I'm very thankful. I thank the Lord... it's going to be a waiting game now until Thursday at 5 o clock."

He also said he has another race Nov. 4 against Rob Studstill. In the meantime, he said he's going to "rest a little bit and get ready to start beating the bushes again." He said this has been the "cleanest race I've ever seen."

Johnson said before the results came in "...as far as my thoughts, it's been an odd race from the beginning," saying that it's been a "quiet" race. He also said that lots of people have been waving and honking, but that that didn't necessarily mean anything.

Bell, who spent the day waving to motorists, said that it had been "a long day, a little warm," but that it had been "positive."

Rooks said after winning, "I'm happy." When asked what she plans to do, she said, "Work hard for the people." Noting that they still have another race, she said she's going to "put it in the Lord's hands."

If the unofficial results hold u, Rooks will face Democrat Jamie Griffin and Meeks will face independent Robert Studstill in the Nov. 4 general election.

In other results, Levy County voters:

• Gave incumbent Gov. Rock Scott the nod for the Republican nomination with 88 percent of the 3,375 votes cast in that race

• Incumbent Congressman Ted Yoho received 78 percent of the 3,514 votes cast in his race against fellow Republican Jake Rush

• Former Gov. Charlie Crist received almost 58 percent of the vote in his bid for the Democratic nomination against state Sen. Nan Rich

• Democrats also gave George Sheldon 57 percent of the vote for the attorney general nomination against state Sen. Perry Thurston, and

• Incumbent 8th Judicial Circuit Judge William Davis took 81 percent of the vote in a non partisan race against William Falik.