Miss Florida Pageant officials met with University of Florida student Elizabeth Fechtel on Thursday to give her the bad news that she won due to a vote tabulation blunder and counting the scores correctly changed the winner to her first runner-up Victoria Cowen. The pageant is run by the Miss Florida Scholarship Organization, which said that an independent audit of ballots revealed the scoring error. After reconstructing events, pageant officials were able to determine that in the last few seconds of voting before the score submission deadline, one of the judges changed his vote from Fechtel to Cowen by drawing lines. The initial tabulation of scores did not pick up the vote change.
Due to the responsibilities of the Miss Florida crown and the amount of preparation necessary for competing in the subsequent Miss America pageant, Fechtel dropped her classes at University of Florida after winning the crown last Friday. She already had duties to perform as Miss Florida and could not attend class. She was planning on taking the next year off from school. The University had already issued a press release to spread the success of their student. Unfortunately for Fechtel and UF, a retraction will be necessary now.
In a stunning change of course, the Miss Florida Scholarship Organization held a ceremony for Cowen yesterday in St. Petersburg to crown her as the rightful winner after the vote tabulation blunder. The excited Panama City native said she found out a midnight the night before. Fechtel will be forced to forfeit her scholarship award from the pageant to Cowen.
In order to reach the Miss Florida pageant, both Fechtel and Cowen had to win local contests. Cowen was previously voted Miss North Florida and Fechtel was crowned Miss University of Florida. In all, 39 local pageant winners competed for the Miss Florida crown. The Miss Florida competition is a four-day event. The preliminaries began on June 17 and ran through until the finals on June 20. Similar to many pageants, Miss Florida features talent and swimsuit competitions.
The Miss Florida pageant winner mix up falls on the heels of Miss Delaware being stripped of her crown based on violation of age requirements. Amanda Longacre lost her crown because Miss Delaware rules prohibit contestants from being eligible if they turn 25 in the year of the pageant and Longacre was too old by a little over two months. The unhappy contestant said she gave pageant officials her driver’s license and birth certificate when she submitted her application for the pageant and absolutely denied any wrongdoing.
Fans of the Miss Florida Pageant are flummoxed that a last second change to a judge’s ballot led to a tabulation blunder and winner mix up. Given that winning a prestigious state pageant can be a life altering event, announced winner Elizabeth Fechtel already dropped her college classes before the scoring mishap was discovered. New Miss Florida Victoria Cowen had already processed her first runner-up status when she was belatedly given the happy news she actually won. No doubt pageant officials will review the ballots closer next year.
By William Costolo