Navy veteran's absentee ballot won't count

Recounts in 2 races will begin Friday morning


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two recounts are scheduled to begin Friday morning in Duval County's primary election.

One of them involves the contentious State House District 15 race between Jay Fant and Paul Renner.

The two Republicans are separated by just three votes after the Canvassing Board certified the unofficial vote and sent it to Tallahassee Thursday night.

One of the votes that will not count came from a 77-year-old man, who made his case before the Board on Thursday.

Jim Rushin insisted he signed both the official voter registration document on file and the absentee ballot that was initially rejected because the signatures don't match. But his ballot was rejected again.

"I've voted absentee ballot for years, and like I said in there, over the years, my signature has changed," Rushin said.

The original on file is from 1996.

Rushin explained to the Board why the signatures don't look the same, pointed to some similarities, and then had to accept the Board's ruling.

"The statute was written, I think, to prohibit fraudulent voting," said Rushin, a 30-year veteran who served in the U.S. Navy. "I think an individual like myself, who can come in, go before the committee, prove who I am and (say), 'Yes, I signed that ballot,' and I think there should be strong consideration given to that. ... That's what I'm disappointed in."

Each campaign has people observing the Canvassing Board during a close count like the House District 15 race. One of the Renner observers saw Rushin's ballot tossed and got in contact with him, asking him if he wanted to attend the meeting Thursday afternoon and make his appeal in person.

Rushin loves America, and he values his right to vote, so he fought hard Thursday trying to reverse the ruling by the elections officers to throw out his absentee ballot.
But his arguments didn't change the outcome.

The panel of Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, City Councilman Doyle Carter and Judge Ron Higbee all voiced regret over the ruling.

They said they believed Rushin, but under the law, were not allowed to change their ruling just based on his testimony.

Both campaigns sent lawyers and spokesmen to the hearing.

"There was obviously an issue with the ballot and the way the statute reads, according to the Canvassing Board. They couldn't accept it," said Fant campaign spokesman Brett Doster. "But I think this was one of those instances where there was agreement in the entire room."

"Where we ended up, a 77-year-old man, who works hard and is a veteran and put his life on the line, his vote's not going to count in a race that, as of right now, (is) three votes difference," Renner campaign spokesman Brian Hughes said.

"Like I said, I'm unhappy. But if nothing else, if they'd look at that, and people in my position can have a say into it," Rushin said.

A big discussion point among the lawyers and the Canvassing Board was why public discussion is invited but by rule not allowed to be used in determining the acceptability of the ballot.

Ultimately, the panel said they had to respect the process and the law.

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