A request by Rep. Allen West to impound ballots and voting machines was denied Friday, setting an uncertain path forward in his quest for re-election.
Palm Beach Circuit Judge David Crow called the Republican's motion "entirely premature" and said the court had no authority to overrule election procedures that are in place and being followed.
"The law is clear: The manner and method of conducting an election, the process of recounting ballots, the process of contesting an election is specifically a legislative function," Crow said. "Courts should not get involved in the election process."
Democrat Patrick Murphy leads West in the District 18 race by a margin outside the bounds of a recount. An unofficial tally is due to the state Saturday.
Both Murphy's campaign and the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board joined in opposition to West's request. County attorneys had argued in court filings that granting West's motion would amount to "an invitation to chaos" and would "throw the entire system in disarray," setting precedent for such action before an election is even certified.
"I think this is basically - I hate to say it - but a kind of a political stunt," said Gerald Richman, an attorney for Murphy. "There was nothing here. They had no evidence. They had no basis. There's no basis in law and fact."
Kenneth Spillias, representing the canvassing board, said everything West's campaign was seeking to have ordered - to protect and preserve ballots and allow monitoring of their counting - is already mandated under election guidelines. A similar filing in St. Lucie County was not yet scheduled for a hearing.
It was a defeat for West, but it didn't stop his allies from claiming victory.
West attorney Shari McCarthy said the incumbent's campaign got what it wanted and was not upset the request was denied.
"We sought today assurances from the court and, indeed, from the defendants, that all the policies and procedures and the statutes would be adhered to, that we'd follow the law, it would be transparent, it would be done with integrity," McCarthy said after the hearing. "We got that. We're thrilled."
McCarthy suggested there would be no appeal to the ruling. But even if the comprehensive vote tally - which will include absentee, provisional and military ballots that are still being counted - falls outside the realm of a recount, West can still contest the race in court.
In a filing made before the hearing Friday, his attorneys said: "Defendant attempts to cast Congressman West's request as premature, due to a `potential' recount. That statement defies common sense and logic. A recount is virtually assured in this election."
Murphy has declared himself the winner in the race and is on a three-day victory tour to thank his supporters. He says he's heading to Washington next week for his House orientation.