History of Gertrude Walker, Election Supervisor Involved in Allen West Recount

Gertrude Walker (Photo: election website)

This is an article by freelance writer Charles C. Johnson

Rep. Allen West’s campaign has singled out a controversial St. Lucie County elections supervisor for special condemnation in one of the closest congressional races in the country. West’s campaign has pointed to a number of irregularities coming from the office of Gertrude Walker. But while the focus is on current irregularities, The Blaze has discovered her past is even more intriguing.

Walker, 63, has spent her entire career involved in electoral politics and activism. The Democrat election supervisor serves on the board of directors of a number of left-wing organizations, and causes, including The League of Women Voters, Head Start, and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Commemorative Committee. She writes on her election profile:

“I was instrumental in the following accomplishments: Renaming North 25th Street as Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., establishing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday for St. Lucie County, City of Fort Pierce and the City of Pt. St. Lucie, and the renaming of Dreamland Park to Martin Luther King Jr. Dreamland Park.”

While supporting a civil rights icon is hardly radical, it’s clear from her record that King’s dream of a color blind society isn’t what Walker has in mind. Is it too much to think, then, that she would oppose West’s bid for re-election because his politics and hers differ?

She was elected the state’s first black elections supervisor in 1980.  Throughout her career, Walker has made much of her color and black activism. Pointing to her own successes, she noted in 1990 (according to an article viewed by the author), “Blacks have certainly made gains politically. I think it’s a greater acceptance by the voting public of black officials and of black candidates.”

And yet, her support for more black candidates can sometimes makes her credibility suspect. Walker was among the very few public officials to voice support for fellow black Miriam Oliphant, a disgraced supervisor of elections for Broward County. A state task force found Oliphant was incapable of counting the ballots correctly and of managing her office. (Oliphant was over $1 million over budget and had hired a homeless man who refused to count certain ballots.)

“The report by the task force of six election experts who traveled to Broward last week to see if Oliphant was prepared to hold an election found deficiencies in almost every aspect of her office,” wrote the Sun-Sentinel in 2003. The report was the “work of three elections supervisors from other counties, the assistant secretary of state and two voting experts, but was produced over the objections of one member of the team, St. Lucie County Elections Supervisor Gertrude Walker.” Oliphant was ultimately fired for incompetence. The Florida State Senate voted 33 to 6 to back the then-governor’s decision to remove her. Even the local chapters of the NAACP, of which Walker’s bio says she is a lifetime member, agreed that Oliphant should be fired, but Walker refused to sign the task force report.

It should be noted that the NAACP has had strained relations with Congressman West, Florida’s lone black Republican congressman. In April of this year, the NAACP disinvited West from delivering a keynote speech. Additionally, it refused to support West when a SuperPAC ran a controversial ad depicting him punching women. West has also publicly criticized the NAACP for labeling the Tea Party racist.

Walker also has strenuously opposed every effort to clean up the voter rolls, even in light of considerable evidence that noncitizens or the dead are on them. She was among those supervisors who dragged their feet on a 2004 proposal to remove the over 47,000 ineligible voters from the rolls. “We’re being very deliberative about it,” said Walker at the time. “We want to make sure we don’t disenfranchise anyone or even notify someone they are a possible felon unless we have confirmation of it.” Walker told the Palm Beach Post that she was considering hiring a company to finish going through the 909 names from St. Lucie County to be purged. “But I haven’t gone to the county commission to ask for the funding because this is quite costly, and I didn’t budget for it.”

In May 2012, Walker and Palm Beach County Supervisor Susan Bucher defied state orders and delayed sending out letters to noncitizens that had been identified by the Florida Department of State as being on the voter rolls. Said Walker (according to an article viewed by the author): “We don’t have confidence in the validity of the information.”

Walker has insisted that West’s request for a recount of early ballots is “unusual” (despite the odd 4,000 vote swing in an unauthorized recount of early ballots.) There are a lot of “unusual” instances of voting irregularities during Walker’s tenure.  In 1990, she fired a subordinate for taking voting machines to the wrong precincts. The Palm Beach Post described Walker in 1992 as having a “refreshingly candid attitude, which allows her to acknowledge that sometimes ‘equipment will malfunction, and individuals will mess up.’” (Palm Beach Post, October 20, 1992).

Early reports of the voting count in the congressional district ought to give us pause before concluding that the race is over. For instance, consider that in Walker’s own reelection race for supervisor — held during the same time as West’s — Walker’s competitor received 14, 000 fewer votes  than Mitt Romney, while Walker received 9, 826 more votes than Obama. An analysis done by a West campaign volunteer concludes that’s statistically improbable.

Despite this history of irregularities, Walker has reluctantly admitted wrongdoing in that early tabulation—a week after the election. “I’m not perfect, neither is my staff,” she admitted during a Tuesday evening press conference. Out of 94 precincts, the first forty weren’t counted at all and the last 54 were counted twice, which explains why city votes increased and county votes decreased after the Nov. 11 retabulation of the votes from Nov. 1-3.

“Obviously, any history of voting irregularities in previous elections or showing poor judgment and discretion is a concern,” said Jeffrey Scott Shapiro a volunteer election lawyer working with West’s campaign. “We’ve spent so much time calculating the vote irregularities that we’re just starting to get into research about the voting machines… we haven’t even had a chance to look into the history of these supervisors. I was surprised to hear that Ms. Walker was in office as long as she has been. She has a lot of unchallenged power.”

Shapiro, who served on U.S. Senator John F. Kerry’s presidential election legal team in 2004, said that he was much more optimistic about the voting process until this election. “I’m coming to the sad reality that politics does play a role in how fair a supervisor can be, and I have real concerns at this point whether or not the vote was counted accurately and fairly. For me, this isn’t about politics or showing support for Congressman West — it’s about knowing the truth and not letting the media call the election prematurely or letting the Supervisor certify this election before there has been a recount.”

Given everything here, is it too much to think that Walker would oppose West’s bid for re-election because his politics and hers differ?