After recount, Charles B. Smith wins Democratic nomination for county commission seat by four votes

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 29, 2014 

MANATEE -- After a day of recounts, Charles B. Smith still had four more votes than incumbent Michael Gallen in a squeaker of a Manatee County Commission race.

After an official recount took much of the day Thursday, elections officials declared Smith the winner of the Democratic nomination for the District 2 seat,with 1,029 votes to Gallen's 1,025 votes.

A third candidate, Corie Holmes, got 884 votes.

Smith now faces write-in candidate Troy Thomas in the Nov. 4 general election.

Smith, 50, of Palmetto, said he was satisfied with the recount of the primary election ballots.

"It was a clean recount," he said. "I think my voters voted for change. Now, it's time for the Democratic Party to unite.

"We've done what we needed to do," he added.

He said he was proud he upended the incumbent on a shoestring budget of $7,805 in contributions compared with Gallen's total of $36,292. Holmes generated $2,872. Asked why he thought he won, Smith replied he was the best candidate.

His supporter, Bradenton City Councilman Harold Byrd Jr., said he thought voters wanted a more diverse county commission.

"Good government is diverse government," he said. "It's reflective of the community."

The count was one vote different than election night results Tuesday when the elections office reported Smith collected 1,029 votes, or 34.37 percent; Gallen had 1,024, or 34.2 percent; and Holmes had 884 votes, or 29.53 percent of the total.

Earlier Thursday, Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett and members of the Manatee County Canvassing Board observed tests on electronic voting equipment, and then invited the candidates to participate in a manual recount at the elections office in Bradenton.

Following that, the elections staff hand counted more than 20,000 absentee ballots in a hunt for one that went missing, but it was never found.

A machine had counted the missing vote in Smith's favor, but since elections officials never actually found it, the vote was not included in the final total.

Near the end of a long day, the canvassing board reviewed provisional ballots, which were judged individually and either accepted or rejected.

Comprised of Bennett, Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle and Manatee County Court Judge Mark Singer, the board is the official body that decides all election issues.

At the end, after more than eight hours, Smith was still hanging onto a miniscule lead, and the board declared him the official winner.

Gallen said he did not yet know whether he would file a formal challenge of the race results.

"I think we need to be sure we count every vote, and every vote is valid for the county," Gallen said after Smith was declared the winner.

Smith is a member of the Palmetto City Commission and a marketing consultant for his family's business, Manatee Harvesting Co.

He is also chairman/president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and serves on the organization's state and national board of directors and is also vice president of the Manatee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 1990, he was the first black elected to what was then the Palmetto City Council, and more recently,he has served four terms on the city commission, three as vice mayor.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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