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Voters in a 'feeding frenzy' after poll


Theresa LePore was up all night, sifting the numbers precinct by precinct until well after sunrise on Wednesday. She was searching for anomalies, aides said, and preparing to defend the new ballot she designed to make voting easier for the county's elderly population.

But nothing could have prepared Ms LePore, Palm Beach County's supervisor of elections, for the storm that would overtake this county seat. Supporters of Vice-President Al Gore gathered with signs urging motorists to "Honk for Re-Vote". Others took to airwaves with tales of anger and confusion in the polling booth.

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of three voters who say they were baffled by the new ballot and accidentally punched the box for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Mr Gore. They want the county's election results overturned.

By midday, Ms LePore's office at the Palm Beach County Government Centre became ground zero in the battle for the US presidency. At issue is the presidency, one heavily Democratic county along Florida's Gold Coast and 3407 votes. That was the tally in this county for Mr Buchanan, whose name was opposite and slightly above that of Al Gore on Ms LePore's new two-page ballot.

Ms LePore had expanded the one-page presidential ballot to accommodate a larger type font that elderly voters could read more easily.

Within hours of the polls opening, complaints trickled in from Gore voters who feared they accidentally voted for Mr Buchanan. Radio shows picked it up and, in the words of a Republican official, "the feeding frenzy" was on.

"People came out of the ballot booth hysterical," said US Representative Robert Wexler, the Democrat who won re-election in Palm Beach County. "They were screaming and crying when they realised what they had done.

"There's no way (Buchanan) would get a turnout like that in Palm Beach County."

Mr Wexler's Republican counterpart in the district, Mark Foley, had a different perspective. He called the missed-punchhole argument "a stretch of the imagination" and asserted that Mr Buchanan easily could have polled 3407 votes in a county that gave Mr Foley's own ultraconservative Reform Party congressional opponent 2651 votes.

Mr Buchanan's tally was outdone here by Ralph Nader's 5564 votes and dwarfed by Mr Gore's 268,945 and Mr Bush's 152,846.

Although Mr Buchanan's share of the vote dwarfed that in every other Florida county, this Democratic stronghold does have a history of supporting the Reform Party.

Still, even Mr Buchanan's campaign said poll officials and voters in Palm Beach County have reason to be suspicious. Given Mr Buchanan's average vote in Florida's other counties, election officials have told the Buchanan campaign as many as 3000 votes in Palm Beach may be "irregular".

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris said no state winner would be officially declared for at least 10 days, until several thousand absentee ballots from Americans overseas are received. The recount produced some new numbers on Wednesday, but no drastic upheavals.

Meanwhile, in north Florida, voters in heavily black precincts near Tallahassee complained that roadblocks set up on Tuesday by the Florida Highway Patrol were designed to intimidate voters heading to vote. Other black voters complained they were turned away from the polls by workers who said there was a shortage of ballots, or the would-be voters were convicted felons. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is calling on Attorney-General Janet Reno to investigate

-- Martin Thompson (, November 09, 2000

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