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Unpostmarked Ballot Count Nixed
By Jeffrey McMurray Associated Press Writer Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2000; 5:15 p.m. EST
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –– Despite political uproar, few election officials in Florida's 67 counties found any reason Tuesday to reconsider overseas absentee ballots rejected for lack of a postmark, as the state's Democratic attorney general has urged.
"We did exactly what he told us we should have done, so there's no reason for us to go back and do it again," said David Leahy, elections supervisor in Miami-Dade County, the state's most populous. "In terms of what we did, we were in full conformity with this letter."
The letter Monday from Attorney General Bob Butterworth, an ally of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, urged the counting of ballots that were tossed out because they lacked a postmark but were otherwise valid.
Republicans had claimed the ballots were thrown out to hurt Republican George W. Bush, who was favored by almost 2-to-1 when the overseas ballots were counted last week.
Bush gained 1,380 votes from the overseas ballots to 750 votes for Gore, but more than 1,500 ballots were rejected, including an unknown number from military personnel.
Many Democrats this week joined the GOP call for officials to count the votes of soldiers abroad. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., asked Tuesday for congressional hearings on the issue.
But a spot check of a number of Florida counties, including those with major military installations, found no movement toward reconsidering the overseas ballots.
The Republican-appointed director of state elections has said those ballots cannot be lawfully counted now, and there was little evidence that counties would do so in spite of that prohibition.
In Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, elections supervisor Ion Sancho said there were no plans to revisit the count, where 11 of the 49 overseas ballots were disqualified.
"None were rejected because they didn't have a postmark," Sancho said. "All that stuff that came out about count this, count that, don't count it. We know the law, we know the rule. We counted."
The sentiment was echoed elsewhere in Florida.
Duval County, home to a naval station in Jacksonville, won't change its tally of military votes, said Robert Phillips, a spokesman for the Supervisor of Elections office.
"We had already applied criteria recommended by the letter," Phillips said.
In Okaloosa County in the Florida Panhandle, which includes Air Force installations, election officials have said they allowed about 40 overseas ballots without postmarks to be counted if they arrived by Nov. 10 – three days after the election. But they rejected close to 50 overseas ballots that arrived later. They had no plans to reconsider any.
Butterworth's standard, as outlined in his nonbinding letter, was that ballots be counted provided they were either postmarked or signed and dated before the Nov. 7 election.
In Hillsborough County, home to MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, elections officials have decided Butterworth's opinion doesn't apply to 12 military ballots excluded from its count for lack of a postmark, signature and date.
In nearby Manatee County, Election Supervisor Bob Sweat said about 25 overseas ballots did not meet the standards. He said he has asked state elections officials to provide a quick opinion on whether to count them.
"I don't want to see somebody robbed of their vote," Sweat said.
Broward County did go back and count four ballots that had been discounted because they had Washington, D.C., postmarks. Elections officials said it was determined they were from overseas diplomatic outposts that wound up in the Washington, D.C., mail system.
The four votes were for Gore.
Sarasota County's canvassing board is unlikely to change its handling of votes, said Robert Riker, assistant supervisor of elections. Twenty-five of 61 overseas ballots were rejected there, although the number cast by military personnel was unavailable.
Alachua County officials also said they followed the law in rejecting 31 overseas ballots.
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press
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