Gore's point man argued against dimples in 1996

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Gore's point man argued against dimples in 1996


By Joel Engelhardt, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Amid the swarm of the world press outside the county Emergency Operations Center, Dennis Newman leads the charge to find new votes for Al Gore in the dimples of the Palm Beach County ballot.

In his distinctive Boston accent, the slightly rumpled man in the slightly rumpled suit recites erudite arguments to explain over and over to the breathless media why a tiny indentation on a paper ballot could determine the leader of the world's most powerful nation.

His argument, put simply, is that dimples show the true intent of the voter. Voters caused those dimples. Dimples should count.

Four years ago, in a similar election spat, Newman took a much different stand. Employing his best legal tactics on behalf of a Democrat holding a slight lead in a primary race for Congress, Newman scoffed at the idea of counting the tiny indentations as votes.

Like the Republicans watching now, Newman wondered out loud how ballots that had been handled over and over, in recount after recount, could still be impartially judged. Couldn't the ballots -- and therefore the votes -- be affected by all that touching and grabbing?

"I don't think they are handled with kid gloves," he said in The Boston Globe.

A pregnant bulge on a computer card falls far short of the proof needed to show a voter's intent, he said then.

He even embraced the position forged last week by the Palm Beach County canvassing board: To determine a voter's intent, the entire ballot must be taken into account. In other words, if a ballot doesn't have dimples in several different races -- not just the presidential race -- the voter probably didn't intend for that presidential dimple to be a vote.

In 1996, Newman argued that the congressional race, while heated, wasn't the most important thing on the minds of all 50,000 voters in the district and many may have purposefully skipped it. Now, he insists, Palm Beach County voters didn't stand in line on Election Day only to skip the most important race on the ballot.

Four years ago, he pointed to confusion on the ballot -- two men by the same name ran for different offices -- and said it may have forced voters to stop, press, then pull away without casting a vote.

Now, he seriously doubts the indentations could have been made by someone pausing over the name -- and then choosing to skip the race for president.

Newman and at least three other Boston-area attorneys -- all with election law experience -- have been here or in Broward County fighting for every presidential vote. Among them is Haskell Kassler, one of the lawyers on the other side in Newman's Massachusetts case.

They've heard the opposition to dimples before. In Newman's case, he's even spouted it. But no longer. He lost.

He represented Philip Johnston, the hardluck candidate who won the Election Day count in September 1996 by 266 votes but lost the judicial review less than a month later by 108.

"The court has ruled and I've seen the light -- through the chad," Newman said in an interview Tuesday.

Newman, 50, ran Gore's campaign in Massachusetts. He flew to West Palm Beach just two days after Election Day turned into topsy-turvy Election Night and Florida went up for grabs.

Even before chad became a household word, Newman knew it could come down to dimples.

Nestled among Palm Beach County's 462,000 presidential ballots were 10,300 on which no vote was cast for a presidential candidate. In past national elections, when millions of votes are cast, 10,000 lost votes in Palm Beach County would have been of no consequence. But not this time.

Machines, Newman knew, wouldn't count the votes if the voter didn't press hard enough to sever the chad, allowing light to shine through. But judges -- some judges, at least -- would.

He knew.

He watched four years ago as Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Donovan counted 956 ballots the machine couldn't count. She awarded 177 to Johnston and 469 votes to his opponent, William Delahunt.

Newman waited while the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed her decision.

He was there two years later when the state banned the use of punch-card ballots, the same voting system that Palm Beach County voters have been using since the 1970s.

So dimples aren't something new to Newman. He bristles when he hears Republicans say the Democrats are trying to change the rules midway through the game.

On Nov. 11, the morning of Palm Beach County's sample hand count of four precincts, the Democrats turned in a memorandum of law explaining why dimples should be counted.

Two days later they filed suit.

At the time, Newman was a silent observer, working behind Miami lawyer Ben Kuehne, who earned his election law stripes in helping to throw out Miami's 1997 mayoral election.

But Kuehne has gone behind the scenes, working on the legal challenges and leaving Newman in the network glare.

When Circuit Court Judge Jorge Labarga ruled last week that dimples must be considered, Democrats believed they had won.

But days later, without an explosion of anger, there was Newman, patiently explaining that no, the dimples still weren't being counted. The canvassing board, he said, failed to follow the judge's direction. And no, the Democrats were not changing the rules in the middle of the game and really all they wanted was a fair and accurate count.

And Monday night, Newman found comfort deep within a Florida Supreme Court ruling extending the deadline for the hand counts. The court cited a case that held voters should not be disenfranchised because the chad they punched did not completely dislodge from the ballot.

Now Newman's appearance outside the counting center is an excuse for cameramen and reporters to swarm. He does live shots for Fox News. He is not stylish. He is part lawyer, part lifelong political operative who back in 1992 helped run the late Sen. Paul Tsongas' White House bid.

He's an advocate and he's working for his client, the vice president of the United States.

He closes with a tale, a cautionary fable about lawyering. Abe Lincoln is arguing as an attorney before a judge. The judge points out that Lincoln argued one way in the morning and took the opposite tack in the afternoon. "Were you right this morning?" the judge wants to know.

"Your honor, this morning I'm not sure. But I'm sure I'm right now," Lincoln replies.

Staff researchers Geni Guseila and Monica Martinez contributed to this story.


-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), November 23, 2000


What about Tipper's dimples? Don't they count as cute?

-- dinosaur (dinosaur@williams-net.com), November 23, 2000.

Brooks Jackson: 'Dimpled' ballots count in Texas

From Brooks Jackson/CNN

November 21, 2000 Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST (0400 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Dimpled ballots. Democrats are saying Florida ballots should be counted where punch cards merely show an indentation. Republicans say it's simply not enough.

They count them in other states -- including Republican candidate Gov. George W. Bush's state of Texas. Tony Sirvello supervises elections in Harris County -- the largest in Texas -- where punch card ballots like those in the disputed Florida counties have been in use since 1982.

"Since we introduced punch cards in Harris county in 1982, I've probably done approximately 50 recounts," say Sirvello, the county administrator of elections. "At the beginning, some of those were electronic. In the last 15 years, most of those have been manual recounts. And in most of those manual recounts, we have counted what the media is calling 'dimpled chads.'"

Just last year in Harris County, Houston voters produced a squeaky-close race for a city council seat. Mark Goldberg was the apparent winner by a mere 26 votes, prompting opponent Maryann Young to demand a hand recount.

Texas law specifically allows for counting dimpled ballots if "an indentation on the chad ... is present and indicates a clearly ascertainable intent of the voter to vote."

The Houston hand count found 97 more votes for Young that the machine count had registered -- including some ballots that were merely indented. But the recount also found 109 additional votes for Goldberg -- so he won the recount by an even bigger margin than before.

It's not that hard for voters to merely dimple a ballot when they are trying to vote, as Kim Brace of Election Data Services recently demonstrated to CNN.

"We've got a hanging chad right here. We've got a couple of chads that are partially off. Here's a pimple or a dimple," says Brace.

Dimples were counted by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in a 1996 Democratic primary recount for Congress. Generally, state courts count ballots where voter intent is clear.

During Monday's Florida State Supreme Court hearing, Bush's lawyers pleaded ignorance of the Texas law. "I really don't know what Texas law is," Bush attorney Michael Carvin told Justice Barbara Pariente.

Well, we know Texas law allows dimpled chads to be counted -- or any ballot where the intent of the voter is "clearly ascertainable."

-- (stop being @ hypocrite. bob), November 23, 2000.


There's a credible news source...

-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), November 23, 2000.

LOL - a lot more credible than the Sludge Report!

CNN reports documented FACTS, not lies.

Can you disprove the facts reported in this article?? Didn't think so.

-- lol (bob@is.a.joke), November 23, 2000.

"We've got a hanging chad right here. We've got a couple of chads that are partially off. Here's a pimple or a dimple," says Brace...

Is there a difference between a dimpled chad and a pimpled chad?

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 23, 2000.

Is there a difference between a dimpled chad and a pimpled chad?

Yes. A "pimpled" chad is an adolescent while a "dimpled" chad is a middle-aged woman with a bad case of cellulite.

-- Gravity (IsA@Bitch.com), November 23, 2000.

I deserve that. I knew I should have made that question a little more specific.

Either way, I wonder if the canvassing boards manage to keep a straight face while they're talking to each other. If you were asked why you rejected (or accepted) a ballot, could you say "Dimpled, pimpled, swinging-door" with a straight face several thousand times?

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 24, 2000.

I couldn't even say it once.

-- Patricia (PatriciaS@lasvegas.com), November 24, 2000.

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