Overseas Absentee Ballots Still an Election Key

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Overseas Absentee Ballots Still an Election Key

Nov. 12 - Florida's overseas absentee ballots are usually an afterthought in any state-wide race, but they could make the difference in the 2000 presidential election.

With nearly six million ballots cast, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush leads Democratic nominee Al Gore by 961 votes, with 66 of 67 counties having completed a recount.

With a margin that close, the state's overseas absentee ballots, which have not yet been counted, could prove decisive, since Florida's 25 electoral votes figure to decide the election. The absentee ballots sent in by Floridians abroad are the only votes cast in the election which - in theory, at least - have not yet been included in the official tabulation made public by the secretary of state's office.

The final results of the overseas voting will be known this Friday, Nov. 17, the deadline for receiving all overseas ballots.

However, each Florida county can decide for itself whether to include overseas ballots received before election day in its current count. Therefore no one really knows how many overseas absentee ballots remain to be counted this year. Some counties have included overseas ballots in the figures they have already released, and some have not.

Overseas ballots are cast by residents of Florida who are living abroad because of military or diplomatic service, business obligations, teaching positions, or other reasons.

The Florida secretary of state's office estimates that a minimum of 2,300 overseas ballots were cast for president in 1996, although 30,000 ballots were actually requested and sent out before the election.

The Palm Beach Post, in a survey of elections officials from 52 counties, has estimated there could be 7,000 overseas absentee ballots still to be counted, out of 15,000 overseas ballots issued by those counties.

Bush Claim: Military Favor GOP

The Bush campaign has asserted that most of the overseas absentee ballots will favor their candidate, based on their claim that military personnel tend to vote Republican.

But Democrats are saying that a large chunk of the Florida overseas absentee ballots have been cast by traditionally Democratic Jewish-Americans living in Israel. The Washington Post has estimated that as many as 1,500 such ballots were sent to Israel this year.

In every Florida presidential election since 1980, when the state began counting overseas absentee ballots after Election Day, the Republican candidate has received more votes than the Democrat, according to the Associated Press.

In 1996, when President Clinton carried the state against Republican nominee Bob Dole, Clinton nevertheless lost the overseas vote, receiving an estimated 902 votes compared to 1,102 for Dole.

Bush's father, former President George Bush, won an estimated 58 percent of Florida's overseas vote while losing to Clinton in 1992 and taking 72 percent while beating Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Rules and Regulations

Overseas ballots are required to be postmarked by Nov. 7, and must be received by the 17th. Before voting, the ballot must be signed and witnessed.

Jim Smith, a former Florida attorney general, held a news conference this afternoon on behalf of the Florida Republican Party during which he emphasized that Floridians overseas who did not meet the deadline have missed their chance to participate in the election for once and for all.

"We're trying to make it clear that it is, in fact, too late to cast that ballot now," Smith said. "If a ballot is not cast and witnessed by Nov. 7, it would be cast aside."

One Florida County, Hillsborough, which contains Tampa, has special permission to turn in its overseas absentee ballots on Nov. 20.

Florida does accept overseas absentee ballots from countries which do not postmark their letters. Israel, a potential lode of Democratic votes, does put postmarks on its mail - eliminating one possible source of controversy from the most contentious presidential election in more than a century.

-- (in@election.news), November 13, 2000

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