Uncounted votes exceed margins in Naples Mayor race as Collier Co. officials schedule a recount

gary price heitmann
Teresa Heitmann leads Gary Price by 12 votes. There are 23 ballots that may yet be counted.

The number of still-uncounted ballots in a race for Naples Mayor exceeds the margin between the top candidates there. Meanwhile, officials are preparing for a complete recount Saturday for the results of the mayoral contest and a City Council race that’s also too close to call.

Results released on Election Night show Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann leading challenger Gary Price by 12 votes.

The Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office confirmed they have 23 ballots from Naples voters that remain in question and uncounted. Beyond that, as many as nine more ballots could still come in from registered voters currently located overseas.

The county has counted 8,546 votes already in the Mayor race. But Trish Robertson, the public information officer for the Elections Office, broke down the number of still outstanding votes.

Provisional ballots (3): The county canvassing board still must decide whether to accept 47 ballots cast on Tuesday, though most of those were from voters outside the city limits voting in the Presidential Primary. Three of the ballots were cast by people claiming they were registered to vote in Naples. The board will meet on Friday and decide whether the votes should be tabulated or disqualified.

Vote-by-mail (20): A number of ballots submitted by mail have not been counted, either because voters failed to properly sign envelopes or because Elections officials said signatures did not match those on record. All impacted voters have been notified their vote has yet to be counted. To date, two voters already cured their votes either by coming to the office to show ID or by submitting forms online. The other 18 votes must be cured by Friday or they will not be tabulated.

That all means at least two votes, and as many as 23, could still impact the “first unofficial results” of the election. All ballots determined as legitimate come Friday will be added to the existing results already published by the Elections Office.

Those show Heitmann with 3,257 votes and  Price at 3,245. Another 2,044 votes were also counted for third-place candidate Ted Blankenship. The 12-vote margin between the top vote-getters represents less than 0.1% of all votes cast.

Meanwhile, a Council race awarding seats to the top three candidates also has a race in doubt. While Bill Kramer and Linda Penniman won seats on the Council, Berne Barton received 3,677 votes, while Tony Perez-Benitoa was at 3,644. The 33-vote difference falls within 0.2% of all votes cast in the race.

Voters could vote for up to three candidates in the Council race.

Both races fall within a 0.5-percentage-point margin to trigger an automatic machine recount of the votes. That will begin Saturday around 11 p.m. following a public equipment test.

If the results at that point remain within 0.25 percentage points, an outcome Robertson said Elections officials anticipate with both races, then the office conducts a manual recount for both elections as well.

The hand recount for the Mayor’s race is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. on Saturday. The Council race will be recounted at 5 p.m.

Of note, the office only plans to report post-recount totals in the Council race for Barton and Perez-Benitoa, and not the four other candidates in the race.

Once the recounts are done, that most likely will put an end to the protracted vote-counting process. But there remains a small set of votes that could still impact the outcome depending on the margins.

The Elections Office will accept votes from military and overseas voters until March 29, presuming those votes were postmarked before the election was concluded on Tuesday. A total of nine ballots were sent to eligible Naples voters this election, and the office has no idea how many such votes may be in transit to Collier County now.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Dont Say FLA

    March 21, 2024 at 7:51 am

    From Sparkers Soapbox, “Of the 52 contributions of $1,000 the Price campaign received from businesses, ten are from developers, eight are in construction, six are builders, three are in real estate, and three are PACs. Ten of the 52 are from businesses not in Naples: four from Fort Myers, four from Minneapolis, one from Greenwich, CT, and one from Tulsa.

    On the other hand, Heitmann, with one third the campaign budget of Price, “received two $1,000 contributions from businesses — one in Naples and one from out of state — and none from PACs. Two-thirds of her $1,000 contributions are from retired individuals who live in Naples.”

    If you voted for Price but didn’t know he was in the pocket of developers and you case one of the votes that remains uncounted due to additional verification required, unless you truly want ugly condos that all look the same all over town, please stay home. Please don’t verify your vote as your vote. Leave it uncounted. How often do you get a do-over in voting? Just about never! But today, if one of the uncounted votes belongs to you, you get a do-over.

    If you didn’t know about PAC Price in the pocket of developers, now you know. If you don’t think that’s who should be mayor, don’t go and verify your vote!

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