Thursday December 7 4:21 PM ET
Fla Official Let GOP Help Voters
By VICKIE CHACHERE, Associated Press Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - One attorney charged there was a ``sinister''
conspiracy to aid George W. Bush. A former CIA agent said he was just trying to help GOP voters. A county elections
official said she let Republican operatives correct absentee ballot
Two trials that could affect tens of thousands of presidential votes played
out just blocks from where Florida's highest court heard legal arguments
Thursday in the contested presidential election.
In Leon County Circuit Court, attorneys representing voters who alleged
Republicans tampered with absentee ballot application forms asked judges to
throw out as many as 25,000 absentee ballots from Seminole and Martin counties.
At issue in both cases is whether mistakes on absentee ballot request forms
sent out by the Florida Republican Party in the waning days of the election were
illegally corrected by state GOP officials when the mistakes were discovered.
``It was a sinister underground conspiracy'' to help Bush, said Edward
Stafman, attorney for the Martin County challengers.
But Republican activists testified they did nothing wrong, saying they just
were trying to correct mistakes their party made on the forms.
Attorneys for the counties and the Republicans are pleading with the judges
to not throw out absentee votes. They argue that voters had no control over what
was done and shouldn't be disenfranchised.
In the Seminole County case, Leon County Circuit Judge Nikki Clark was to
hear closing arguments Thursday afternoon. That was when closing arguments
concluded in Martin County, and Judge Terry Lewis said he would rule by noon
Both trials were held back-to-back in the same courtroom. Testimony in the
Seminole case finished after 13 hours Wednesday, then the Martin case began.
Bush won the absentee balloting by 4,797 votes in Seminole and by 2,815 votes
in Martin, so throwing them out could place his 537-vote certified statewide
lead in jeopardy.
Voter ID numbers were left off many applications through computer errors in
Seminole County and incorrect numbers were placed on the forms in Martin County.
Florida law says ballot applications may not be mailed out without the correct
In the Seminole County case, elections supervisor Sandra Goard admitted she
allowed Republican officials to fill in the numbers and said it was the first
time she had done so. ``I had never received a request for that to be done,''
she said. Democrats did not ask for the same accommodation, she added.
Goard also testified that Florida law did not give her the authority to allow
party officials to fill in the numbers. But she said she allowed GOP official
Michael Leach and a second man she has been unable to identify to fill in the
numbers at the party's request. Democratic Party state chairman Bob Poe later
called to protest her actions, but Poe did not request the same opportunity to
correct applications for Democrats, she said.
Goard did not appear in court Wednesday. Her previous deposition testimony
was read aloud instead.
In the Martin County case, county GOP official Tom Hauck was asked on the
stand whether he would acknowledge ``walking out of the office'' of Republican
elections supervisor Peggy Robbins ``with a stack of applications for absentee
``On one occasion, that's right,'' Hauck replied, adding that he took the
ballots to county Republican headquarters to fill in the numbers.
Thursday morning, Robbins started the day on the witness stand, testifying
she thought she was doing the sensible thing when she let the Republicans fill
in the numbers on the ballot applications.
``They had put the information on these cards. It seemed logical to let the
people who had done it incorrectly to correct the problem,'' she said.
On Wednesday, Charles Kane, who testified he worked for the FBI and retired
from the CIA in 1975, said nothing secretive nor sinister occurred.
``We had an obligation to them,'' he said of Republicans who had received the
inaccurate ballot document. ``We had filled out their forms. We did not see this
as altering. All we saw this as was correcting a problem caused by the
Republican Party of Florida.''
Todd Schnick, the state Republican party's political director, testified that
he did not remember key elements of the ballot form glitches, which occurred in
the last weeks of the presidential campaign.
In the Seminole County case, Democratic activist Harry Jacobs filed the
challenge. Defense attorneys said Jacobs had raised $50,000 for Democrat Al
Gore's campaign and provided other assistance.
Gore is not a party in either lawsuit.
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Testimony concluded Thursday in the trial
involving an effort to throw out nearly 10,000 absentee ballots in Martin County
-- a case that could derail Republican George W. Bush's slim but certified
Florida victory over Democrat Al Gore. Judge Terry Lewis said he planned to
release a written ruling by noon Friday.
A key witness, county Elections Supervisor Peggy Robbins, took the stand
shortly after proceedings resumed at 8 a.m., following a late evening session
that dragged on past midnight, and testified her office did nothing wrong by
allowing a Republican official to add missing voter identification numbers to
absentee ballot applications.
Closing arguments in a similar trial involving absentee ballots from Seminole
County were being held in the same courthouse Thursday. The suit was filed by
Democratic attorney Harry Jacobs, a Gore campaign contributor, who alleged the
elections supervisor in that county, Sandra Goard, allowed a "Republican
operative" to come to her office and fill in missing information on
thousands of absentee ballot applications.
In the Martin County case, Robbins testified the numbers were missing from
request forms sent in by GOP voters after a mass mailing from the state
Republican party. She said a state GOP official, Tom Hauck, was allowed to
remove those forms and add the numbers to make the forms complete.
"The mistake that was made on them was made by the Republican
party," Robbins said. "It only seemed logical to allow the Republican
party to correct that mistake."
The goal, Robbins said, was to ensure no voter was disenfranchised. "We
did not want to deny the voter the right to get their absentee ballot," she
said. "They assumed that they had correctly requested an absentee
The same opportunity would have been given to Democrats, she said, but was
not necessary because all forms sent in by Democratic voters were complete and
needed no additions.
Democratic voters complained in their suit that they received unequal
treatment. They are asking that all the absentee ballots cast in the county be
thrown out because it is not possible now to identify those that Robbins allowed
the GOP to correct.
Plaintiffs' attorney Ed Stafman contended adding the numbers was illegal
because the voters cast ballots unlawfully. "They obtained ballots that
they had no right to obtain," he said.
Stafman said the proper remedy was to throw out all the absentee ballots. But
he acknowledged that would be harsh and suggested the judge could order some
other alternative, such as a punishment for the elections officials.
Bush campaign attorney Daryl Bristow argued voter identification numbers were
not a requirement for the request forms, and therefore adding them was not
against the law. "All the other information that the voter had supplied
under this purely directive, and not mandatory, provision was right," he
There were 9,773 absentee ballots cast in Martin County, 6,294 Bush and 3,479
for Gore. Throwing all of them out would deprive Bush of 2,815 votes now in his
column --enough in this case to keep him from moving into the White House.
At stake in Seminole are nearly 15,000 absentee ballots, all of which the
lawsuit seeks to invalidate because of the alleged mischief. Throwing out those
ballots would cost Bush about 4,700 votes.
Individual voters brought both cases. The Bush campaign was involved in both
trials, the Gore campaign was not involved.
|DECISION 2000 / AMERICA
WAITS: Absentee Application Fight Hits 2 Courts: Law:
GOP attorneys attack claims by Democrats about corrected
forms in Florida. Prompt verdicts are promised.
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2000 / The Times Mirror Company
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Trying to block one of Al Gore's
last shots at winning the White House, Republicans
launched an aggressive attack Wednesday on two lawsuits
claiming the GOP hatched a scheme before the election to
illegally correct absentee ballot request forms
in two conservative Florida counties.
"This case is being brought for one reason: to
change the outcome of the election," GOP attorney
Terry Young told Leon County Circuit Judge Nikki Ann
Clark in a tense Tallahassee courtroom. "A ballot
is not just a piece of paper. It is a voice--and a voice
that, at all costs, should not be silenced."
The Republicans' campaign came as both lawsuits got
underway here in a day that began before dawn and ended
early this morning. As midnight came and went, aides
were still bringing in steaming cups of coffee, and
puffy-eyed attorneys, some of whom had been in court for
17 straight hours, were gulping them down. A television
soundman was snoring loudly in the hallway, his fuzzy
boom microphone at his side.
If Clark or Terry P. Lewis, the circuit judge hearing
the second case, rules in favor of the Democrats, it
would turn the election on its ear at the eleventh hour.
The suits seek to throw out about 15,000 absentee votes
in Seminole County, north of Orlando, and about 10,000
votes in Martin County, north of West Palm Beach.
Both trials were nearing completion, with verdicts
promised promptly. Though legal experts believe the
cases are problematic at best, a pair of victories for
the Democrats could represent a net gain of almost 8,000
votes for Gore, far more than the vice president needs
to trump George W. Bush's minuscule lead in Florida.
If Clark doesn't want to throw out the absentee votes
wholesale, Democrats argue, she should at least throw
out the votes that Bush earned solely because the state
Republican Party was allowed to correct flawed absentee
ballot applications that would have been thrown out
That number, according to a statistical analysis by
UC Berkeley economics professor J. Bradford DeLong: at
least 1,504, nearly three times Bush's 537-vote margin
in Florida. At a minimum, argued Gerald F. Richman, the
lead Democratic attorney bringing the Seminole County
case, those votes should be tossed out because the
agreement between the Republican officials tainted
"the sanctity of the ballot."
But Wednesday morning, the dew hadn't dried on
Tallahassee's noble oaks and magnolias before
Republicans opened fire.
In the Seminole County case, they quickly painted an
image of Harry Jacobs, the audacious personal injury
lawyer who filed the lawsuit, as a Democratic insider
who spent more than $100,000 of his money this year to
try to defeat Bush.
The day Gore chose Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman as his
vice presidential candidate, Republicans have learned,
Jacobs called Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe
and pledged to "do anything and everything to
support the Gore campaign," Young said. "And
that's what he's doing today."
Young represents Seminole County election supervisor
Sandra Goard, an elected Republican who concedes that
she allowed several Republican Party employees to
correct more than 2,000 flawed absentee ballot
request forms that would have been thrown out otherwise.
But Goard, the Republicans argued, is not the
partisan player that Jacobs is. "She has no vested
interest in the outcome of the election," Young
said. "Her only vested interest is that every
legally cast vote . . . is counted."
Both parties sent postcards to thousands of
prospective voters in the months before the election, an
increasingly common tactic across the nation as absentee
voting has become more central to political
Each party sent the cards to voters who were likely
to back their candidate--an operation that cost the
state Republican Party $500,000. The cards were,
essentially, preprinted applications to receive absentee
ballots. They contained a variety of information
about each voter, and were supposed to require only a
signature. They could then be sent back to election
officials, who would, in turn, send back an absentee ballot.
But a Republican contractor mistakenly printed
voters' birth dates in a spot reserved for voter
identification numbers, one of the pieces of information
that Florida law requires before county election
officials can issue actual absentee ballots.
While the voter-identification requirements appear
technical, they were an important piece of a get-tough
reform package approved by Florida in the wake of
Miami's infamous 1997 mayoral election. That election
was tarnished by widespread fraud involving absentee voting,
resulting ultimately in the removal of Miami Mayor
Xavier Suarez from office.
"We goofed," Republican Party political
director Todd Schnick testified Wednesday night in the Martin
"And you knew there was big trouble," said
attorney Edward Stafman, representing the Martin County
Democratic activist who filed that lawsuit.
So the state Republican Party mobilized, crafting
agreements with two election supervisors--both elected
Republicans--to correct the mistake.
In Seminole County, Schnick called Goard in October
and secured an agreement that allowed them to use a back
room of her office to correct the ballot applications,
though they had already been thrown out. Three
Republican Party officials worked for as long as three
weeks, correcting 2,126 absentee ballot
Absentee ballots were then sent to those
Seminole County voters, resulting in 1,932 actual
votes--1,833 from registered Republicans and 54
The Republican Party worked out a similar agreement
in Martin County, where the party was allowed to
remove the flawed absentee ballot forms from the
election office for several days, then return them with
the correct information.
Hundreds of absentee ballot requests filed by
Democrats, who received different postcards without the
printing error, were flawed in other ways. And, though
it's unclear whether they ever asked, Democrats did not
have the same opportunity in either county to correct
Unapologetically, Republicans formally acknowledged
all of that Wednesday.
The GOP's team of lawyers signed an extensive
stipulation document in the Seminole County case that
admitted virtually everything the Democrats have
Republicans acknowledged that the Republican Party
officials were allowed to correct ballot applications in
a room where the public is not allowed. They
acknowledged that the party officials were not
supervised and that Goard's staff assisted them by
segregating flawed Republican ballot applications from
the rest of the application pile.
None of that matters, the Republicans argued.
Legally, they said, the judges cannot throw out any absentee
votes. The lawsuits, they pointed out, do not even
claim that votes themselves were faulty, either because
the wrong voter identification number was used or
because they were cast by the wrong person.
Finally, the Republicans argued that the state
Democratic Party was at least as underhanded in its
efforts to enlist absentee voters.
At least in some cases, said Bush attorney Daryl
Bristow, the return address on the Democratic Party's
postcards was to the party's headquarters, not to the
election supervisor's office. Party officials would
receive the ballot applications in the mail themselves,
then carry them to the election office.
Clark, the judge hearing the Seminole suit, told the
attorneys that she believes the case boils down to two
arguments: whether the correction of the forms "is
sufficient to invalidate the vote" and whether the
parties were treated differently.
Richman, the lead attorney for Jacobs in the Seminole
County case, said he has proven both.
In the face of the Republicans' criticism, Richman
produced a series of witnesses in an attempt to prove
his case Wednesday.
Dean Ray, a Seminole County Commission candidate,
told the judge that he submitted hundreds of signatures
in an attempt to qualify for the election this fall,
mostly to avoid paying a $3,700 qualifying fee. Many of
those signatures were disqualified, and Ray said he
asked Goard if he could use voter identification numbers
to verify them.
"She stated that was against the law," said
Ray, a Democrat who ultimately lost the election.
DeLong, the UC Berkeley statistician Democrats hired
for $500 an hour, said during his testimony Wednesday
that if Republicans were given access to a voting
procedure that Democrats did not take part in, "you
are treading on extremely dangerous ground."
All told, Richman said, the Seminole County case
amounts to voter fraud--and a conspiracy. "This was
intentional," he said, "and not merely
carelessness or negligence."
By Wednesday night, Democrats were trying to
recapture some of the momentum in the cases, with some
success. In the Martin County case, especially,
witnesses appeared evasive as Stafman peppered them with
Charles W. Kane , a Martin County
resident and a member of the state Republican Executive
Committee, testified that he was one of the Republican
Party officials who corrected ballots in that county. On
the witness stand, Kane refused to call his
"I call it an addition to correct the
problem," he said.
As the night wore on, the courtroom exchanges became
increasingly aggressive. Stafman grilled Schnick, who
was responsible for the postcard program, and when
Schnick appeared to dance around some topics, Stafman
yelled: "Did you hear my question?"
By the end, Stafman had essentially abandoned his
role of merely asking the witness questions, telling
Schnick at one point that the Republican official
changed the ballot applications to "save his
Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to
USA: UPDATE 4-Fla. absentee ballot cases argued.
By John Whitesides
Reuters English News Service
(C) Reuters Limited 2000.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Dec 6 (Reuters) - Republican lawyers on Wednesday battled
two Florida lawsuits filed by Democratic voters that offered Vice President Al
Gore some hope by seeking to have thousands of presidential election ballots
The two cases arose from allegations of tampering with voter applications for
absentee ballots in Florida's Martin and Seminole counties, which both went to
Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the election.
Both suits were seen by legal experts as unlikely to succeed, but if one or
both of them did, it would cost Bush thousands of votes, allowing Gore to
overtake Bush in the state which both candidates must win to capture the
On Nov. 26, Florida certified the Texas governor as the state winner by just
537 votes out of 6 million cast.
Gore attorneys are challenging that certification and have appealed to the
state Supreme Court against a state judge's ruling on Monday that rejected their
bid to have thousands of ballots from other Florida counties counted by hand.
The Martin County and Seminole County cases were heard back-to-back on
Wednesday in a courthouse in Florida's capital, Tallahassee.
In the Seminole lawsuit, Democratic voter Harry Jacobs alleged Republican
tampering with absentee ballot applications and sought to have all 15,000
absentee votes in the county thrown out, which would cost Bush thousands of
The lawsuit alleged the county's Republican supervisor of elections, Sandra
Goard, let Republicans operate out of her office to modify more than 2,000
applications for absentee ballots to add missing voter identification numbers.
In doing so, the lawsuit says, Republicans "fraudulently caused the
issuance of several thousand invalid absentee ballots" that were later cast
in Seminole County, which is in central Florida just north of Orlando.
In court on Wednesday, attorney Gerald Richman, representing Jacobs, argued
there was not simple carelessness but "intentional misconduct" on the
part of Seminole elections officials that resulted in "absolutely, totally
disparate treatment" of Democratic and Republican absentee voters.
TRIAL MOVES THROUGH LEGAL MAZE
Like the weekend trial of Gore's challenge to Florida's certified election
results, the Seminole trial moved slowly through a maze of legal haggling and
statistical probabilities as attorneys played to the national cable television
audience viewing the trial.
Richman spent more than two hours reading transcripts from Goard's deposition
even though her testimony was already in evidence. He told Judge Nikki Clark he
wanted those watching the trial on television to know what Goard had said.
In her deposition, Goard said she had rejected some ballot requests that
lacked voter identification numbers but allowed the Republicans to add the
numbers to preprinted forms they had mailed out because the numbers were
accidentally left off.
Bush attorney Barry Richard objected to the lengthy reading, pleading at one
point: "I'm just getting tired."
He argued that the rejection of all the county's absentee ballots would
punish voters who had done nothing but return a preprinted application form
mailed to them by Republicans.
"There is no suggestion in this case that the voter did anything
inappropriate," Richard said.
Richard remained confident the Republican arguments would prevail after
testimony ended on Thursday.
"There was surely no proof of disparate treatment, there was no evidence
that there was a single Democrat who was denied the ability to vote because of
disparate treatment," Richard said. "I think this is nothing."
Republicans have argued there was no evidence of intentional fraud and there
had been no tampering with the actual ballots, only the applications.
Clark said she would look at two issues in the case - whether the addition of
the voter identification numbers was a sufficient reason to invalidate all
ballots and whether Democrat and Republican voters were treated differently.
Testimony in the Seminole case ended on Wednesday evening and closing
arguments were scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
MARTIN COUNTY TRIAL RESUMES
Less than an hour after the Seminole case adjourned, attorneys were back in
the courtroom to begin testimony in the Martin County trial, which centers on
673 absentee ballot applications - out of 10,260 filed with the county - that
were altered by Republican volunteers.
Of those, 6,294 voted for Bush and 3,479 went for Gore.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Martin County Democrat, alleged two top
county Republican officials, Thomas Hauck and Charles Kane , a retired CIA
employee, conspired with the county's supervisor of elections to correct
absentee ballot applications filed with erroneous voter registration numbers.
"The fact is that these ballots were issued unlawfully and they never
should have been voted," plaintiffs' attorney Edward Stafman said.
But Kane denied there was a conspiracy, and testified he felt
responsible for erroneous voter registration numbers on pre-printed ballot
applications the Republicans had mailed out to boost voter turnout. Similar
cards were printed and mailed out by Democrats in the state.
"We didn't see this as altering. All we felt like we were doing was
correcting a problem that was caused by the Republican Party of Florida,"
The trial was adjourned shortly after midnight EST, and the case was set to
resume on Thursday at 8 a.m. (1300 GMT).
|ELECTION 2000 / THE
PRESIDENCY / All Eyes on Trial Over Absentees
Jessica Kowal. STAFF CORRESPONDENT
(Copyright Newsday Inc., 2000)
Tallahassee, Fla.-Gov. George W. Bush's lead attorney
confidently rested the defense last night in a contest
of Florida's presidential election that could void
15,000 absentee ballots from Seminole County
and give the lead to Vice President Al Gore.
So confident were Bush's attorneys that they
presented no witnesses and only asked the judge to read
excerpts from several depositions.
"There's no evidence that anybody did anything
wrongful that affected the election," said Bush's
lead attorney, Barry Richard. "I think that this is
Leon County Circuit Court Judge Nikki Clark scheduled
closing arguments for 1 p.m. today, after Bush's
attorneys argue before the Florida Supreme Court in
Gore's appeal of the election contest rejected Monday by
Judge N. Sanders Sauls.
If Bush's attorneys have correctly assessed their
chances, and if Clark refuses to invalidate any ballots,
Gore's legal opportunities to win the election dwindle
Gore is not a plaintiff in the Seminole County
case, which was brought by Harry Jacobs, a trial lawyer
who donated $50,000 to Gore and the Democrats and spent
another $50,000 to produce an advertisement critical of
GOP vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney.
Attorneys for Jacobs refused to handicap their
chances, but pointed out that the Bush team has sought
to downplay this case over the past few weeks.
"We're very happy with our case," said
attorney Eric Seiler. "These guys are good at
saying there's nothing there. If they win, they win. If
they lose, they lose."
The trial was lacking in courtroom drama, but the
potential for a history-making decision made the case
impossible to ignore.
All the attorneys agreed to the basic facts: In
October, three employees of the state Republican Party
were allowed to enter the Seminole County
election supervisor's office, and over the course of two
weeks, altered about 2,500 applications for absentee ballots
by writing in the voter registration numbers. The
applications, essentially postcards sent to voters by
the state GOP, would have been nullified without this
voter ID number.
More than 2,100 of these applications were processed
(the others lacked some other piece of information) and
1,932 of these absentee voters returned their
ballots and had their votes counted, attorneys said
yesterday. Elections Supervisor Sandra Goard said
Democrats did not ask to correct any of their ballot
Bush won the county's absentee ballots by
about 5,000 votes, so throwing all the ballots out would
easily boost Gore over Bush's state-certified 537-vote
Soon after the court convened, Clark defined the two
key questions that will apparently guide her ruling:
Should voters' absentee ballots be nullified
because the Florida GOP altered the absentee ballot
applications, and did the Seminole County
elections supervisor treat the Republican Party and
Democratic Party so differently as to compromise the
integrity of the election.
Democratic lawyers read testimony from Goard, the
elections supervisor for more than two decades, who let
the GOP operatives fill in the missing voter numbers.
Goard said she had never before allowed anyone outside
her office to fill in information on the ballot
applications, and said no one had asked to do so before
After extensive ballot fraud in the 1997 Miami
mayoral election, Florida's Republican-led legislature
in 1998 toughened the rules on absentee ballot
applications and absentee ballots. Election
statutes now list nine pieces of information that should
appear on absentee ballot request forms,
including a voter's signature, a witness' signature, and
the voter's birthdate, address and voter registration
Attorneys for Bush have said the legislature's list
of these items was intended to give direction to
officials, without making those rules
"mandatory." Attorneys for the plaintiff point
to language in the statute that says voters
"must" include that information.
Attorneys for the plaintiff began with two witnesses,
a housepainter who volunteers for the Democratic Party
and an appliance repairman and sometime candidate for
local office in Seminole County, who both
testified that the county elections chief did not let
them bend election rules in the past.
The plaintiff's third witness was a former U.S.
Treasury economist, J. Bradford DeLong, who used a
statistical analysis of the absentee ballots to
give the judge a few options if throwing out all 15,000 absentee
ballots appeared too draconian.
The case has forced Bush's attorneys to flip-flop
their arguments from all previous lawsuits, where they
sought to prevent any counting of disputed ballots from
south Florida. Ever since the election, the Bush team
has said officials must follow the letter of Florida
election statutes, arguing, for example, that Secretary
of State Katherine Harris had no choice but to adhere to
a seven-day deadline to accept election results.
But in the Seminole case, Bush attorney
Richard has argued that the Florida legislature intended
that "statutes should be liberally construed"
so more voters could participate, exactly the opposite
position he had taken in Sauls' courtroom.
Gore and his attorneys have kept their distance from
this case, knowing that an effort to throw out thousands
of votes would appear hypocritical given their
insistence that every vote must be counted.
Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 absentee ballots from
Martin County are being challenged in a similar
suit. Lawyers for Bush asked Circuit Judge Terry Lewis
to dismiss the case, saying that while ID numbers were
added to ballot applications, there were no improper
Courtroom Drama Begins in Case Asking Seminole to
By Nicholas Kulish and Joni James
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2000, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The latest courtroom drama in Florida's disputed
presidential election got under way, with the lawyer for an aggrieved Democratic
voter urging a judge to toss out more than 15,000 mostly Republican absentee ballots
from Seminole County because they were tainted by "intentional
By allowing Republican operatives to fill in missing information on thousands
of already-signed but incomplete applications, Seminole 's elections
supervisor Sandra Goard engaged in "a breach in the integrity and sanctity
of the election process," said Gerald Richman, who represents the case's
Ms. Goard has denied ill motives or trying to help George W. Bush win. But
Bush campaign attorney Barry Richard focused his defense on the paucity of
evidence that any ballots in question were actually fraudulent. There is
"no statute and no common-law authority that suggests the motive of an
official has any bearing on the validity of a ballot," Mr. Richman said.
The opening statements outlined the issues at play in two separate trials
that opened over similar allegations concerning the handling of absentee -ballot
applications. The other case involves Martin County; in an unusual but
practical move, the two cases took turns being aired during the day, with many
of the same lawyers, but different judges.
Few facts are in dispute in the cases: Election supervisors in the two
counties allowed Republican operatives to fill in voter identification numbers
on applications that otherwise would have been rejected as incomplete -- actions
the Democratic plaintiffs alleged violated laws aimed at preventing fraud.
The real dispute is whether the circumstances warrant the most-severe remedy
sought by the Democrats -- tossing out a total of 24,988 votes. That would give
Vice President Al Gore a net gain of 7,612 votes and a relatively comfortable
lead over George W. Bush, who is now ahead by just a few hundred votes. The
Democratic plaintiffs face a tough task in persuading the judges to, in effect,
hand the election to the vice president -- if only because it is impossible to
segregate ballots from voters who completed the applications themselves, so all
would have to be tossed to cleanse the outcome of allegedly tainted ballots.
Acknowledging the severity of the remedy, the plaintiffs offered an
alternative: With the help of a statistics expert, James Bradford DeLong, a
professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, the
plaintiff lawyers suggested erasing votes based on the number of disputed ballot
applications, proportionately allocating the lost votes for each candidate by a
formula taking into account that most of the allegedly tainted applications came
Under heated cross-examination, Mr. DeLong conceded that his calculations
didn't include any allowances for voters who might have gone to the polls anyway
if they hadn't received their absentee ballots because of defective
applications. Republicans called only one witness, an attorney who inspected all
Seminole absentee -ballot requests and found that some citizens whose
requests had been turned down voted anyway.
The trials opened in separate courtrooms, with the two judges agreeing not to
conduct proceedings simultaneously to accommodate lawyers involved in both. In
the Martin County case, Judge Terry P. Lewis heard preliminary motions
before sunup and recessed about 8:30 a.m., so the lawyers could file next door
to the Seminole trial, before Judge Nikki Ann Clark. The judges
subsequently agreed to share the same courtroom. Judge Clark heard testimony
until 7 p.m. last night and scheduled oral arguments for today at 1 p.m. Judge
Lewis reconvened the Martin County case at 8:10 p.m. and began hearing
Attorneys seeking to throw out the disputed ballots in Seminole County,
on behalf of local Democrat and party donor Harry Jacobs and other voters, made
some headway with their witnesses but didn't score any significant victories.
The plaintiff's team attempted to show that Ms. Goard, the elections supervisor,
in the past had been a stickler who refused to cut corners. An unsuccessful
Democratic county-commission candidate told the court he once failed to persuade
Ms. Goard to allow him to alter incomplete qualification petitions. "That
was stated plainly that that was against the law; she could not allow
that," Dean Ray testified.
Steven Hall, campaign manager for a local Democrat, testified that Seminole
elections officials told him that any absentee applications lacking
the voter registration number "would not be tolerated." In a
deposition read in court, Republican Ronald Livingston said he was told in 1998
that "no one could add any information to an absentee -ballot
request" when he tried to amend his own.
The law requiring applications to include voter registration numbers was
enacted in the wake of absentee -ballot fraud in the 1997 Miami mayoral
race. Both parties routinely send party loyalists mostly completed absentee -ballot
applications to boost turnout, but those sent out by the GOP this year
mistakenly left off the numbers.
Two Absentee Ballot Cases Argued in Fla. Courtrooms
Peter Slevin and James V. Grimaldi
The Washington Post
Copyright 2000, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved
TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 6 -- Lawyers for Democratic voters battled in two
courtrooms today to prove that Republican election supervisors delivered an
unfair advantage to Texas Gov. George W. Bush by allowing GOP workers to correct
misprinted absentee ballot forms.
While Bush attorneys insisted that the work was a mere secretarial chore,
ensuring that ballots would reach the citizens who had requested them, Democrats
asserted that election workers in Seminole and Martin counties
broke the law. As a result, they argue, thousands of absentee ballots
there should be invalidated.
No final result was reached in the two cases, the latest of a dwindling
number of chances for Vice President Gore to overtake Bush in the contest for
Florida's 25 electoral votes. A similar case involving Bay County is being
considered by a third Leon County judge.
The challenge for the Democrats, whose quest has been endorsed by Gore
although he has not formally joined the case, is to show that the actions of GOP
supervisors of elections broke the rules and changed the outcome of the
presidential race. If so, the lawyers contend, the judges should throw out
25,000 ballots, even though most were properly cast.
"The real issue in this case is . . . to show that this was intentional
and not merely carelessness or negligence," said Gerald Richman, who
represents the Seminole County Democrat who filed the challenge. He spoke
of the "felonious conduct" of elections workers and contended there
was "absolutely, totally disparate treatment."
In a camera-studded Tallahassee courtroom now familiar to CNN and C-SPAN
viewers, Richman today presented witnesses who described how Election Supervisor
Sandra Goard allowed a Republican Party worker to use a desk inside her offices
to correct 1,932 misprinted requests for absentee ballots.
Each form was correctly completed and signed by a voter, but because of a
mistake by the company that produced the cards for the Republican Party, some
were missing the required voter identification number. GOP staffer Michael A.
Leach spent about 15 days correcting the forms by hand as election workers
delivered them to him.
Seminole County lawyer Terry Young maintained that virtually no
Democratic voter was hurt by Leach's actions. Although 742 ballot request cards
were not processed, Young said most were from residents who eventually voted in
person or obtained absentee ballots in another way. Only 70 to 80 people
did not vote; not all were Democrats or qualified to vote in Seminole ,
"The plaintiffs have done an absolutely excellent job . . . of making a
mountain out of a molehill," Young said. "This case is being brought
for one reason: to change the outcome of the election."
Young disputed the notion that Goard had consciously favored the Republicans
to the harm of the Democrats and Gore. He noted that the ballot request forms
sent to Democrats did not have a misprint. The Democratic Party, he said,
"didn't need any help, they didn't ask for any help, they didn't make a
There was no fraud, lawyers for the Bush campaign argued. They said it would
be a "draconian" solution to throw out all 15,215 Seminole County
and 9,773 Martin County absentee ballots even if there were a
technical violation of Florida's absentee voting laws.
"This is not a case where dead people voted. No votes were bought
here," said Daryl Bristow, a Houston lawyer representing Bush. "The
plaintiffs wish to suppress the votes of . . . innocents."
In keeping with the breakneck pace as the deadline nears for selecting
representatives to the electoral college, lawyers for the two campaigns began
doing battle at 7:10 a.m., just as the Tallahassee sun was cracking the horizon.
The duel stretched into the night as the judges staggered their sessions to
accommodate lawyers who appeared in both trials.
After Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis spent 80 minutes on pretrial motions in
the Martin County case, Circuit Judge Nikki Ann Clark convened in the
courtroom next door and quickly outlined the key questions as she saw them in Seminole
First, she said, the court must conclude whether alterations in the ballot
request forms can invalidate absentee ballots themselves. Second, she
said must rule whether the two political parties were treated equally. If the
ruling favors the Democratic challengers, she must figure out how to correct the
The two sides rested shortly after 7 p.m., and Clark set closing arguments
for 1:00 p.m. Thursday.
In the course of the day, witnesses for Richman and his client, Democratic
activist Harry N. Jacobs, spoke of what they called unfair treatment by Goard
and her staff. Steven W. Hall, manager of a local Democratic campaign, said he
visited Goard's office for information on absentee ballot applications
and "did not feel welcome." Nor was he allowed the wide access that
Democrat Dean Ray, a frequent candidate for office in Seminole County,
testified that he had been prohibited by Goard from making corrections to voter
identification numbers on his petition to run for county commissioner. He said
he thought some names had been rejected because they lacked such a number.
"You tried to get those back for the purpose of correcting them?"
"That's correct," Hall replied.
After the election, when word emerged about the GOP corrections, an angry
registered Republican, Ronald Paul Livingston, called Goard to complain about
what he perceived as rule-breaking. Livingston said in pretrial questioning that
he was "appalled."
"She said, 'Hey, if you don't like it, file a protest,' "
Livingston said in a sworn deposition read in court.
If Clark rules against Seminole County and the Bush campaign, she must
design a solution, aware that the state Supreme Court favors the right of voters
to be heard if voting errors are only technical. Richman proposed that if the
judge is unwilling to discard all the absentee ballots, she should apply
a formula for rejecting a smaller number of votes.
Of the 1,932 requests that were altered, Richman said, 1,833 were submitted
by registered Republicans, while 54 were sent by registered Democrats. A
University of California at Berkeley statistician testified that 1,504 of the
ballots resulting from the altered cards would have gone to Bush.
Barry Richard, an attorney for Bush, scoffed at the notion, saying there is
no way to know how each voter voted.
"Wouldn't it be easier," Richard said, "if we just adopted
your formula and skipped all this voting business?"