Miami Herald
November 10, 2000


Palm Beach judge sets hearing on ballot


by BY LISA ARTHUR, JASON GROTTO, STEVE HARRISON AND BETH REINHARD

West Palm Beach -- A Palm Beach County judge issued a temporary injunction late Thursday that prohibits the county elections office from certifying its recount of presidential votes until a hearing is held Tuesday on a lawsuit over the ballot's design.

Eight lawsuits have been filed, including six in Palm Beach County. Two suits filed in Tallahassee allege race discrimination.

Predominantly Democratic, Jewish and African-American neighborhoods in Palm Beach County posted some of the highest proportions of votes for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan in Florida, according to a Herald analysis. Many voters have said they were confused by the ballot design and didn't know whether the hole they were punching in the ballot meant they were voting for Vice President Al Gore or Buchanan.

Hundreds of voters from those neighborhoods and others took to the streets Thursday and rallied with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to demand a revote.

Many of the lawsuits also call for a new election, arguing that the 3,407 votes for Buchanan stemmed from a ballot that robbed Gore supporters of their constitutional right. More lawsuits are likely.

``Anyone who thinks there will be a speedy resolution to this situation is engaging in wishful thinking,'' said Bruce Rogow, a local constitutional expert who has been hired as Palm Beach County Election Supervisor Theresa LePore's personal counsel.

LePore's design of the ``butterfly shaped'' ballot continued to be the focal point of ire and criticism nationwide. Statistical analyses seemed to bolster allegations that the ballot caused confusion that may have cost Gore thousands of votes.

According to a precinct by precinct examination by The Herald, there were 241 precincts where Buchanan received unusually high numbers of votes -- in some cases, as many as one vote for every 20 for Gore. In contrast, Buchanan garnered one vote for every 167 for Gore elsewhere in Florida.

A statistician hired by the Florida ACLU concluded it is ``statistically impossible'' that Palm Beach County cast that many votes for Buchanan, based on statewide voting patterns, said James Green, an attorney representing the Florida ACLU and the former legal director for that organization.

Even Buchanan said it's unlikely he drew that many votes in Palm Beach County. ``It is my belief that some of the votes cast for me probably were cast for me mistakenly,'' said Buchanan on Fox News. ``My guess is that some of those folks guessed or believed they were voting for Al Gore.''

The confusing ballot is also being blamed for resulting in the disqualification of 19,120 presidential votes cast Tuesday because voters selected more than one candidate. Another 10,000 ballots recorded no presidential vote. By comparison, in 1996, half as many ballots -- 14,872 -- showed no vote or more than one vote for president.

Palm Beach election officials said Thursday they will recount 1 percent of the 461,988 ballots by hand -- at the request of the Democrats -- and all the ballots by machine, at the request of the Republicans.

The recount -- the second this week -- will begin Saturday morning. Circuit Judge Kathleen Kroll signed a preliminary injunction Thursday that bars the Palm Beach County canvassing commission from certifying the final recount results for the presidential election until a hearing set for Tuesday afternoon.

During the recount by hand, election officials may come across ballots whose holes -- known as ``chads'' -- were not fully punched through by a voter. They can decide if the vote should count.

LePore spoke briefly but did not answer questions. ``The world has its eyes on this county,'' said Sabin Leach, 60, a part-time West Palm Beach resident at Thursday's protest. ``This election supervisor could change the direction of our republic for decades to come.''

One of the lawsuits, a class action filed by civil rights attorney Mark Cullen says LePore broke state law by designing a misleading ballot. Gore was the second name listed on the ballot but he corresponded to the third hole on the punchcard.

The plaintiffs are Kenneth Horowitz, owner of the Miami Fusion; his administrative assistant Catherine Bowser; and Sylvia Szymoniak, the mother of Cullen's law partner.

Lynn Szymoniak said poll workers rushed her mother, a Palm Springs senior, and told her she had to complete the lengthy ballot in five minutes.

Horowitz, of Palm Beach, said, ``I love this country, and it's important that people leave a voting booth with certainty that they voted for the candidate they favor.''

The lawsuit echoes another filed Wednesday by three Palm Beach County voters, which also asks for the election results to be thrown out.

A complaint filed in federal court in West Palm Beach was withdrawn Thursday by Palm Beach County voter Milton H. Miller in a courtroom packed with reporters and representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties. As the proceedings began, one middle-aged man stood up and yelled ``No Democrat treason -- Bush Bush Bush!'' U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp ordered him removed.

Attorney Wendy Wellberg described plaintiff Miller as a ``loyal Democrat who wanted to do the right thing for Al Gore and the Democrats.'' She declined to comment on whether Miller was pressured to drop his suit.

Rogow said Miller's complaint that the supervisor broke the law by setting up a misleading ballot belongs in state, not federal court.

``Any lawsuit must be in the right venue and the right format,'' he said outside the courtroom. ``We're going to have to litigate all of this. I can tell you that [LePore] did not violate any laws.''

Calls for a revote here streamed in from all over the country. Working Assets, a private long-distance telephone company based in San Francisco, posted a link on its website urging visitors to e-mail Florida officials and ask for a new election. About 50,000 people used the website to log their displeasure with Tallahassee election officials, said Andrew Cooper, the company's state political director.

Herald staff writers Daniel de Vise, Caroline Keough, Carol Marbin Miller, Shari Rudavsky and Charles Savage contributed to this report.

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