Cloud of litigation hangs over unresolved US election, 19,000 votes thrown out, NAACP Alleges Voter Suppression (Five Election Stories) : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Cloud of litigation hangs over unresolved US election


A cloud of bitter and potentially debilitating litigation hung over the US political system Thursday, as swarms of lawyers descended on Florida, where a ballot recount was underway to decide the US presidential election.

Two former US secretaries of state - Democrat Warren Christopher and Republican James Baker - accompanied by dozens of lawyers have been dispatched to the Sunshine State to handle legal issues stemming from the procedure.

In addition, the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, who is trailing his Republican rival, George W. Bush, by only 1,378 votes, has retained a Florida law firm to explore a legal challenge to the vote, NBC News reported.

"Information is being gathered all across Florida, and I think as that information comes in, it will give us a better guidepost as to how we are to proceed," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane told MSNBC when asked whether the campaign was considering challenging the result of the presidential election in Florida courts.

The stakes could not be higher. A victory in Florida would give Bush or Gore 25 additional votes in the 538-member US Electoral College, putting the winner over the threshold of 270 votes needed to open the doors to the White House.

While the Gore campaign is mulling legal action, some supporters of the vice president are already suggesting that Gore is not ahead in Florida because he has fallen victim of massive voter fraud.

"Some individuals have now filed some kind of suits," said Democratic political consultant Peter Fenn, pointing out at the same time that they were not acting on behalf of the Democratic Party or the Gore campaign.

The most highly publicized complaints come from Gore supporters in Palm Beach county, who claim the confusing layout of the ballots made them vote for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan instead of the vice president.

But Republican Congressman Mar Foley said the ballot in that Florida county got the Democratic Party's stamp of approval.

"It was given to all parties before yesterday in the election. It was given to the Democrats," Foley told CNN's "Larry King Live" program.

However, there are others who insist that irregularities were much more widespread and serious.

"I am led to believe that, again, tens of thousands of votes at stake," said Jack Quinn, a former Gore chief of staff.

"I also believe, if I am correct, that these ballots were intended to be marked for Al Gore, that that would very clearly and decisively move Florida into the Gore column," he told CNN.

He did not provide specifics. But the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a group with close ties to the Democratic Party, pointed Wednesday to a series of irregularities in Florida.

It said it had received reports of ballots being disqualified in Hillsborough County by officials claiming that the race of voters on their identification cards did not match state records.

A teacher from Osceola, a suburb of Orlando, complained that voting machines in her precinct "caused voters trying to punch the hole for Gore in their ballot to inadvertently punch the hole for another candidate," the NAACP said in a statement.

In the same communities, voters were given pencils instead of pens, and in Hillsborough County a sheriff's deputy was observed asking black men for identification and allegedly turning them away, claiming the were convicted felons, according to the group.

"We are talking about voter suppression, frightening people away from the polls," NAACP Chairman Julian Bond told MSNBC television. "It ought not to be tolerable in modern-day Florida. It ought not to be tolerable anywhere."

Bond said the NAACP discussed the situation with Justice Department officials Wednesday but has not made a decision on what to do with the evidence it had collected.

Although the major parties in this dispute have so far refrained from filing lawsuits, given the mushrooming number of complaints, few analysts here believe that the conflict will be put to rest Thursday, when Florida authorities unveil the result of the vote recount.

19,000 Fla. Ballots Disqualified; Confusion Blamed for Vote Errors Thursday, November 9, 2000

By Karin Meadows

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. B More than 19,000 ballots were disqualified on election night in a Florida county where confusion over the presidential ballot led to a flood of complaints and a lawsuit Wednesday.

Election officials said Wednesday that 19,120 ballots from Palm Beach County had showed votes for more than one presidential candidate. Those votes were nullified and not included in the count.

"That total is a high number," said Palm Beach County Commissioner Carol Roberts, a Democrat who is part of the canvassing board that is conducting a recount of the presidential race.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Al Gore supporters called the county elections office saying the punch-card ballot was so confusing they thought they may have accidentally voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Gore.

Three people sued, seeking a new election.

"It was so hard to tell who and what you were voting for. I couldn't figure it out, and I have a doctorate," voter Eileen Klasfeld said.

Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat, said she designed the ballot on two pages to make it easier for elderly voters to read.

But lawyers for her own party said the design of the Palm Beach County ballot is illegal and that they may ask for a re-vote. But no immediate action was taken by the party Wednesday.

Reeve Bright, lawyer for the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, said just because more than 19,000 voters punched the ballot twice doesn't mean they intended to vote for Gore.

"Some could have been Bush votes," Bright said.

With all precincts reporting and following the recount, Buchanan had 3,412 votes for president in the heavily Democratic county Tuesday, more than he received in any other Florida county, according to unofficial returns. Gore received 269,696 votes, and Bush received 152,954 after the recount was complete. Gore's total in the county was up 751 votes in the first count. Bush gained 108 votes.

Statewide, Gore was behind George W. Bush by fewer than 800 votes, and Florida held the key to the national race. In Palm Beach, Buchanan received 3,412 votes in the recount. Two larger counties south of Palm Beach both had much lower Buchanan results B 789 in Broward County and 561 in Miami-Dade County. In Duval County, a much more conservative county in northeast Florida, only 650 Buchanan votes were cast.

The confusion apparently arose from the way Palm Beach County's punch-card style ballot was laid out for the presidential race. Candidates are listed in two columns, with holes down the middle between the columns, to the right or the left of each candidate's name.

The top hole was for Bush, who was listed at top left; the second hole was for Buchanan, listed at top right, and the third hole was for Gore, listed under Bush on the left. Arrows linked the names with the proper hole, but some voters feared they had missed the arrows and punched the wrong hole.

"When ballots are placed in the slide for voting, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman are the second names on the ballot, but the third hole to punch," Florida Democratic Party Communications Director Bill Buck said in a statement.

The lawsuit filed by three residents says state law requires the Democratic presidential candidate to be second on the ballot.

But Clay Roberts, director of the Florida Department of Elections, said the problem was exaggerated.

"I don't think they are confused. I think they left the polling place and became confused. The ballot is very straightforward. You follow the arrow, you punch the location. Then you have voted for who you intend to elect," said Roberts, a Republican appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, George W.'s brother.

Florida law specifies that voters mark an X in the blank space to the right of the name of the candidate they want to vote for.

Jeff Liggio, a lawyer for county Democrats, called the ballot illegal. "Right means right, doesn't it? The state law says right. It doesn't mean left," he said.

Don A. Dillman of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, who has done research on the design of paper questionnaires, called the ballot confusing.

"I've never seen one set up like this," Dillman said from Pullman, Wash. "It's very confusing the way they have put things on the right side together with things on the left side. I can see why there might be a problem. If you passed over the first candidate to go for the second candidate, it's logical that you'd punch the second hole."

Outside the Palm Beach elections office, about 50 outraged citizens carried signs protesting the ballots.

"It was an injustice. Thousands of people were confused," said 42-year-old Niso Mama. "We have to have another election in this county."

In Pinellas County, meanwhile, election officials ordered a recount of the recount late Wednesday, saying some ballots weren't properly counted.

Gore Gains Ground In Florida Recount Thursday, November 9, 2000

With 32 of Florida's 67 counties completing their recounts, George W. Bush's lead over Al Gore has been reduced by 843 votes late Wednesday, with just 941 votes now separating the two in the crucial state tally that will determine the nation's 43rd president.

Meanwhile in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County, where there have been accusations that the presidential portion of the ballot was confusing, officials announced 19,120 ballots in the presidential race were nullified because more than one candidate was picked. Only 3,783 voters made that mistake on the U.S Senate portion of the ballot.

"That total is a high number," said Palm Beach County Commissioner Carol Roberts, who is part of the canvassing board that is conducting the recount.

Three people have sued, seeking a new election, because of the confusion.

Pinellas County, which includes St. Petersburg, will have to redo its recount Thursday after a poll worker inadvertently failed to run an unknown number of ballots through its computer Wednesday, county Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said. The county retracted its original announcement that Gore had gained 404 votes and Bush dropped by 61 in its recount.

Both candidates dispatched aides to Florida to oversee the historic ballot recount that could conclude by 5 p.m. Thursday.

But Democrats were also threatening a lawsuit to halt the process because they said Republicans in Florida were ignoring claims of possible voter fraud and trying to rush the recount. State officials pledged to be fair.

"The state of Florida is in the national spotlight right now, in the world spotlight," Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth said.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of the Republican nominee, recused himself from the election canvass commission that will certify the winner and determine who gets the state's critical 25 electoral votes.

Like many others, the Florida governor struggled to find enough adjectives to describe the previous 24 hours, when the results swung back and forth and ended with his brother clinging to a lead of 1,700 votes out of 5.9 million ballots cast. The slim margin prompted the recount.

"All along we thought it would be close," said Jeb Bush, who admitted he called and apologized to his brother for failing to deliver the state. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine it would be this close."

In Austin, George W. Bush appeared briefly with running mate Dick Cheney outside the governor's mansion, and announced former Secretary of State James Baker would represent him in Florida. Both Bush and Cheney said they were confident their margin will stand and carry them to the White House.

Bush, the two-term governor who is hoping to beat the Democrats who ousted his father from the White House eight years ago, called the night "an exciting election" that displayed "the strength of our American democracy."

Gore told reporters in Nashville that it's "crucial that the American people have full faith" in the process, and promised that, regardless of the result, any transition will occur with dignity and "respect for the will of the people." He enlisted former Secretary of State Warren Christopher to supervise the recount for him and running mate Joseph Lieberman. Christopher was careful to note, "We're not on the edge of a constitutional crisis" but cautioned that the process must be careful and fair.

Gore Voters For Buchanan, Not Nader

In Palm Beach County, some Democratic voters complained that a confusing ballot prompted them to vote inadvertently for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. Buchanan received 3,000 votes in the county B an unusually high number compared to the rest of the state and district expectations. And questions swirled in other districts about voters who were turned away at the polls.

Also unclear is the impact of overseas absentee ballots, which under Florida law can be accepted for up to 10 days after Election Day.

Media Mess

Dangling in the balance is the outcome of an unusually close election that defied expectations, mirrored a country evenly divided, and raised anew questions about how and when the media declares winners.

The electoral vote seesawed through much of Tuesday night, forced news networks to twice rescind their projections, and ended with Gore calling Bush shortly before 4 a.m. Wednesday to retract an earlier concession.

State of Affairs

By then, only Florida and Oregon remained undecided, but the results elsewhere were unlike any other in a generation. Bush and Cheney won 30 states, blanketing most of the South and the nation's breadbasket. They won in Tennessee and Arkansas, home states of Gore and President Clinton. But Gore and Lieberman captured 19 states and the District of Columbia, including must-win battlegrounds of Michigan, Iowa and Washington.

Fittingly, even the bellwether states, those with a history of picking presidential winners over the last half-century, failed to cooperate: Pennsylvania fell to Gore, while Missouri chose Bush.

When the dust settled at dawn, Gore was poised to become the first candidate in 112 years to win the popular vote but not the 270 electoral votes necessary for the presidency. The latest tallies gave him 48,854,158 votes nationwide, about 49 percent of the total and about 215,000 more than Bush's 48,641,710.

The split reverberated in the Congress, where Republicans were waiting Wednesday to see the results of a Washington state race that could enable them to keep a slim Senate majority. Their edge in the House was safer, with the GOP holding a 220-211 edge with two races still undecided.

And the second-guessing began. Should Bush have spent millions of advertising dollars and time in California, a state in which he never significantly challenged Gore? Was the vice president wise to relegate President Clinton, a master campaigner, to the sidelines? Did Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, who failed to reach his national goal of 5 percent, but earned 95,000 votes in Florida, tip the election to Bush? Did the media taint the race by reporting Florida returns before polls closed in the state's western panhandle B which rests just across the central time zone boundary?

One sideline commentator was Clinton, who spoke to Gore early Tuesday night after first lady Hillary Clinton clinched her own Senate victory but before the presidential roller coaster began.

"I was just like you last night," Clinton told reporters. "I was a fascinated observer."

Wednesday November 8 11:08 PM ET

Lawsuit Filed in Florida County Over Ballot Sheet

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - Some voters in Florida's Palm Beach County filed a lawsuit on Wednesday calling for a fresh vote because of a ballot sheet layout that they say led some people to mistakenly vote for the wrong candidate.

At issue were votes that Democratic Party (news - web sites) supporters said went to Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan (news - web sites) when they were meant for Vice President Al Gore (news - web sites), and which may turn out to be crucial in tipping the balance over to Texas Gov. George W. Bush (news - web sites) in Tuesday's historically close presidential election.

Lois Frankel, a Democratic state representative, said a group of voters filed the lawsuit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, alleging the ballot sheets violated election laws because they were confusing.

Just 3,400 votes were cast for Buchanan in Palm Beach County -- but that was enough to matter in a race so close that the winner of the U.S. presidency hinged on a recount in Florida. Fewer than 1,800 votes separated Gore and Bush in Florida. Buchanan polled less than one percent nationwide.

Former Gore chief of staff Jack Quinn told CNN the campaign had received information that ``tens of thousands'' of Palm Beach County ballots intended be cast for Gore were never counted in the first place because they were flawed.

``We believe that as many as tens of thousands of votes intended to be cast for Al Gore were not counted for a variety of reasons,'' Quinn told CNN.

State and county elections officials could not be reached for comment.

Quinn suggested many people marked their ballots a second time -- for Gore -- after realizing they had inadvertently voted for Buchanan. He called the county ballot design ``incredibly horrific'' and said Buchanan got ten times as many votes as he did in all other Florida counties.

``This simply cannot be resolved tomorrow. It cannot,'' he said. ``If I am correct that these ballots were intended to be marked for Al Gore then that would clearly and decisively move Florida into the Gore column.''

Some Democratic Party supporters were convinced there was no way the county, a Democratic stronghold, would have produced several times more Buchanan votes than nearby counties.

Confused Voters

``I'm appalled ... these votes could have made the difference,'' said one voter, Ronnie Epstein.

Epstein said she almost punched the hole corresponding to a vote for Buchanan and then spent several minutes puzzling out how to line up her candidate with the right punch hole.

The Palm Beach County ballot listed candidates on two facing pages of the ballot booklet with punch holes for each candidate in a single column between the facing pages.

The Democratic ticket, Gore-Lieberman, was the second one listed on the left page. But the punch hole for Gore-Lieberman was the third one down in the column. A thick black arrow pointed from the Democratic ticket to the corresponding hole, but some voters found the layout was not ``intuitive.''

``A lot of people were confused,'' said Frankel, adding phones at her office had rung off the hook with complaints. ``People are upset and disgusted, they want a new election.''

She said it should be easy to verify whether people had voted Buchanan by mistake -- for example if a ballot sheet showed otherwise straight votes for Democratic candidates, then a Buchanan vote would be very unlikely. ``It would be time-consuming but possible,'' she said.

Frankel said some voters who mistakenly put in a vote for Buchanan tore up their votes when they realized they made a mistake and then were allowed to vote again. But others realized they had punched the wrong hole only when they had deposited their ballot sheet and it was too late to go back.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, asked about the ballot on ABC, said the state had no control over concerns about individual ballots and any challenge would have to be through the courts.

``The ballot was constructed legally, (and) designed legally. ... All of the candidates had the opportunity to view this prior to the election to suggest the changes that were necessary,'' she said.

State Gov. Jeb Bush, younger brother of the Republican candidate, said on Wednesday that the ballot design should have been challenged before the vote.

Florida law dictates the order in which the candidates are listed on the ballot, but allows local elections officials to determine how the ballot is laid out.

It was clear there were complaints before polling closed on Tuesday and before it was clear the race was tight enough for the Buchanan vote to be a real issue. Epstein said she called a string of local media early on Tuesday morning, soon after realizing that the ballot sheet could be misleading.

Thursday, November 9 3:12 PM SGT

Intense Scrutiny for Florida Recount

By David Royse Associated Press Writer

Thursday, Nov. 9, 2000; 12:49 a.m. EST

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. BB Florida officials began recounting nearly 6 million ballots Wednesday to determine the next president, while Democrats and some voters complained of election irregularities. Partial results showed Al Gore cutting into George W. Bush's lead.

In one heavily Democratic county, officials said 19,120 ballots in the presidential race were tossed out before they were counted because more than one candidate was picked.

The recount in all 67 counties was triggered by state law because Republican Bush led Democrat Gore by less than one-half of 1 percentage point. State officials said they expect to finish by the end of the day Thursday.

Florida elections supervisors also waited for an undetermined number of overseas ballots, primarily from military personnel and their families. The state allows 10 days after the election for the ballots to come in.

The state counted about 2,300 overseas ballots in the 1996 election B more than the margin separating Gore and Bush this time B so there is a remote possibility that those ballots alone could change the outcome. The Florida totals, including all absentee ballots received so far, showed Bush with 2,909,135 votes and Gore with 2,907,351 B a difference of 1,784 in a state with 8.75 million registered voters.

After 32 of Florida's 67 counties were recounted Wednesday, Gore had gained 843 votes.

Pinellas County, which includes St. Petersburg, will have to redo its count because a poll worker inadvertently failed to run an unknown number of ballots through its computer Wednesday, county Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said. The county retracted its original announcement that Gore had gained 404 votes and Bush dropped by 61 votes in its recount.

The scrutiny was intense because Florida and its 25 electoral votes will decide the next president. In an added twist, the state's governor, Jeb Bush, is the Republican nominee's younger brother.

"We thought it would be close. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine it would be this close," Jeb Bush told reporters Wednesday.

Both Bush and Gore campaigned hard in the state and regarded it as crucial.

Some counties completed the count Wednesday and forwarded results to Tallahassee for certification by Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris and state elections director Clay Roberts, a Republican appointee. Jeb Bush said he recused himself.

Although both candidates typically pick up votes in a recount, veterans of the process said it is unusual for one side to pick up enough votes to make a difference in the outcome.

In each county, a county judge, the chairman of the county commission and the local elections supervisor, recounted the votes by feeding punch cards through tabulation machines three times. The makeup of the canvassing board is supposed to insulate the process from politics, Roberts said.

Two former secretaries of state B Warren Christopher for Gore and James A. Baker III for Bush B were heading monitoring teams sent to Florida on Wednesday.

Even before the recount, the Gore campaign was already eyeing legal options for forcing a new vote in Palm Beach County, where confusion over how to fill out the ballot may have boosted the tally for Pat Buchanan, a senior Gore adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In Florida and elsewhere, Democrats grumbled about long lines at the polls, reports that ballots were late in arriving at polling places and other possible irregularities.

"We've received literally thousands of telephone calls and inquiries and reports of irregularities like ballots appearing and disappearing, voter intimidation, and the totals of this election sort of mysteriously disappearing and growing overnight," state Democratic Party chairman Bob Poe said.

Jesse Jackson said he got calls on Election Day complaining that blacks had difficulty voting in Florida and other Southern states. He said some voters were told there were no more ballots, or that polls were closed.

"What we need is not just a recount by hand, but also a thorough investigation," Jackson said.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said he has asked the Justice Department to investigate alleged election irregularities affecting minority voting. He also wants the government to oversee the recount.

"We are not suggesting foul play, but we are very much concerned that foul play can happen," he said in a statement.

Separately, Democratic officials and voters complained about the way ballots in Palm Beach County were arranged.

Voters punched holes in the middle of the ballot, while candidates were alternately listed to the left and then the right. County officials also said more than 19,120 ballots in the presidential race were tossed out because more than one candidate was picked. Only 3,783 voters made that mistake on the U.S. Senate portion of the ballot.

"It was virtually impossible to know who you voted for," said Mark Hirsch, a 30-year-old business executive who voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.

Some Gore supporters said they feared they mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. Gore carried the county by more than 110,000 votes, but the 3,407 votes for Buchanan were by far the most of any Florida county, and almost 20 percent of his total vote in the state.

Republicans said the ballot was approved by Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore, a Democrat.

Jeb Bush said he has seen nothing that indicates fraud, and pledged a fair recount.

"Voter fraud in our state is a felony, and guilty parties will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," he said.

Wednesday November 8 6:27 PM ET

NAACP Alleges Voter Suppression in Florida

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - The NAACP on Wednesday said it had evidence of a pattern of blacks being turned away from voting in Florida, where a recount holds the key to who will be the next president.

The nation's largest civil rights organization called on U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno (news - web sites) to investigate what it described as ``numerous election irregularities'' and suggested that federal authorities also oversee a vote recount that Florida officials began a day after the election.

A mandatory ballot recount got under way after initial election results showed Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush (news - web sites) leading Democratic nominee Al Gore (news - web sites) by about 1,800 votes in Florida, whose 25 Electoral College votes will decide one of the closest elections in U.S. history.

``We are not suggesting foul play,'' NAACP President Kweisi Mfume told a press conference at the organization's national headquarters in Baltimore. ``But we are very much concerned that foul play can happen.''

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said black voters were turned away at one Florida polling place because of an alleged shortage of ballots, some received inoperable ballot cards and others were disqualified by election officials who claimed their race did not match official voting records.

In other alleged instances, the NAACP claimed sheriff's deputies demanded identification from black men and then refused to let them vote, claiming the men were convicted felons. At another location, black voters allegedly asked to sign in with pencils instead of pens.

``These things suggest a pattern of deliberate attempts to suppress the level of African American votes in this important state,'' NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond told Reuters.

``The assumption is that black voters are mainly Democratic voters. It could be 100 votes. It could be several thousand. I don't want to blame anyone. But you have to ask yourself: who would profit?''

The NAACP, which mounted an unprecedented $12 million get-out-the-vote campaign this year, has also called on the Justice Department (news - web sites) to look into complaints of voting irregularities in Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey and New York.

``We have grave concerns that these and other acts may violate the 15th Amendment to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,'' said Mfume, a former Democratic congressman from Maryland.

-- Carl Jenkins (, November 09, 2000

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