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Judge denies Rep. West's motion to impound ballots

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. A Florida judge on Friday denied a request by Republican Rep. Allen West to impound ballots and voting machines, dealing a blow to the freshman lawmaker's bid for a second term.

Palm Beach Circuit Judge David Crow said West's motion was "entirely premature" and that 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," he said. "Courts should not get involved in the election process."

Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy leads West by a margin outside the bounds of a recount. An unofficial vote tally is due to the state Saturday.

Both Murphy's campaign and the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board opposed West's request. County attorneys had argued in court filings that granting West's motion would be "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."

Murphy has declared himself the winner in the race and is on a three-day victory tour to thank supporters. He says he'll go to Washington next week for his House orientation.

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 court hearing for a similar filing by West in St. Lucie County had not yet been scheduled.

Crow's ruling was a defeat for West, though his allies claimed victory.

"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," West's attorney, Shari McCarthy, said after the hearing. "We got that. We're thrilled."

McCarthy said they would not appeal 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 bounds of a recount, West still can contest the race in court.

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