Ballot mistake forces Miss Florida officials to reverse decision a week after pageant
By Letitia Stein
TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) – Just a week after her coronation, the winner of the 2014 Miss Florida pageant was dethroned on Friday when organizers said they had crowned the wrong woman after a vote-count error.
Elizabeth Fechtel, a 20-year-old student at the University of Florida, won this year’s pageant in front of nearly 2,000 spectators last Saturday in St. Petersburg, Florida.
But the ballot counter didn’t see that one of the five judges had changed his mind, writing a new line up on the left-hand side of his ballot.
The true Miss Florida contest winner was Victoria Cowen, a 21-year-old student at Florida State University.
Meanwhile, in Delaware, beauty contest winner Amanda Longacre was stripped of her crown as Miss Delaware this week because she will turn 25 in October and pageant rules say contestants must be no older than 24 in 2014.
After the Florida mix-up came to light this week, pageant organizers sought an independent review, said Mary Sullivan, executive director of the Miss Florida pageant.
Sullivan delivered the bad news to Fechtel in person on Thursday evening, traveling to her home in Leesburg, Florida.
“Our organization had to do the right thing, and the right thing is to crown the young woman that was intended to be crowned,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan was not aware of another vote count error of this nature, although pageant winners have been disqualified for other reasons, she said.
Fechtel is now the runner-up, and Cowen will compete in September’s Miss America contest. The two women are friends, Sullivan said, which made the conversations even harder.
“We would have been very proud either way because they are so exceptional,” Sullivan said. “Once we were made aware of it, we couldn’t stand by and just not do anything.”
The Florida pageant involved in the mix-up is part of the “Miss America” series, distinct from a separate Florida contest for the “Miss USA” title.
Neither woman could immediately be reached on Friday.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Barbara Goldberg)
Watch a report on the scoring error in Florida, as aired on WTVT-TV on Friday, below.