Tags: Dispute | Over | Absentee | Ballots | Tried | Dec.

Dispute Over Absentee Ballots to Be Tried Dec. 6

Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM

Attorney Harry Jacobs, a Democrat from Sanford, Fla., filed the suit because Republican Party workers were allowed to sit in the office of the Seminole County supervisor of elections and add missing voter identification numbers to 4,700 Republican absentee ballot requests. Jacobs is asking that all 15,000 of the county's absentee ballots be nullified.

President-Elect Bush won about 10,000 of the county's absentee ballots, meaning that a ruling in Jacobs' favor would eliminate the Republican's 537-vote lead over Vice President Al Gore in Florida, which was certified by the secretary of state Sunday.

At a hearing Tuesday, Circuit Judge Nikki Ann Clark set out a detailed schedule for both sides to gather depositions and affidavits, with trial scheduled to begin 8:30 a.m. Dec. 6.

Clark refused to consolidate the Seminole County case with the rest of Gore's challenge to the Florida vote certification, guaranteeing that the cases will travel separate tracks. This also means that unless the Seminole County case is squelched, the resolution of Gore's contest of the state's final vote tally may not be decisive in the Florida election.

According to a deposition given in the case by Election Supervisor Sandra Goard, an elected Republican official, the GOP sent voters in the district a distinctive postcard that could be returned to her office to request an absentee ballot. Under Florida law, such absentee ballot requests must include the voter's name, address, voter ID number and signature, as well as the last four digits of the voter's Social Security number.

Thousands of these cards came back to Goard's office, but were rejected because they lacked the voter ID number. The GOP had apparently neglected to include a space for this information on the preprinted cards.

According to Goard's deposition, her office, in response to a GOP request, separated the Republican reply cards from other rejected absentee ballot requests, and then allowed party workers to sit in an election office storage room and add the voter ID numbers to those rejected cards. The cards were then resubmitted and processed, and the voters were sent absentee ballots.

Jacobs told United Press International on Tuesday that it was a violation of the state's election law for the ballot requests to be amended and resubmitted by a third party after they had already been rejected by the elections supervisor. "To include this information is a violation of the [state] anti-fraud provisions," Jacobs said.

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, leading Bush's efforts in Florida, said at a press conference in Tallahassee Tuesday: "We're not concerned about Seminole County. We do not believe that claim has merit."

Bush attorney Barry Richard added that under Florida law, "any person can assist the voter in filling out the absentee ballot request."

But Jacobs said Baker "is missing the point … these are ballot applications that were acted on [rejected] by the supervisor, and then people came in without the voters' permission or knowledge" and altered the requests. "She turned over disqualified ballots and allowed [the Republican Party] to resubmit them."

Florida State University law professor Nat Stern told UPI that the Seminole County litigation could give the Gore campaign a major boost no matter which way Clark decides it. If the court disqualifies all 15,000 absentee ballots – there is no way to tell which absentee ballot came from the disputed cards – Gore would take the lead in the vote, although it has already been certified.

But if the court rejects Jacobs' case, the case may provide the most direct path for Gore to appeal the election to the U.S. Supreme Court, Stern said.

Gore attorneys are opposing Bush's request that the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the Florida Supreme Court's decision last week to extend the deadline for certifying Florida's presidential vote. But Stern said the same attorneys could be back before the nation's highest court arguing that the Seminole County vote violated the "equal protection" clause of the U.S. Constitution by providing Republicans with unfair electoral assistance that Democrats and others were denied.

Dennis Joiner, assistant election supervisor for Seminole County, told UPI Tuesday that there was nothing unusual about the Republican Party's effort to get voters to submit absentee ballot requests, noting that both parties regularly send ballot requests to voters. But he would not discuss specifics of he case, referring all further inquiries to the board's attorneys.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Attorney Harry Jacobs, a Democrat from Sanford, Fla., filed the suit because Republican Party workers were allowed to sit in the office of the Seminole County supervisor of elections and add missing voter identification numbers to 4,700 Republican absentee ballot requests....
Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM
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