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How Gore Cheated American Troops Serving Overseas

Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM

Al Gore, who kept insisting that "every vote be counted,” robbed American troops serving their country overseas of their right to vote, according to Bill Sammon's investigation of Gore’s shameful, underhanded fight for Florida’s crucial electoral votes.

To illustrate the depths to which Gore sank in his effort to steal the election from George W. Bush, Sammon tells the shocking story of Navy Lt. John Russell, a heroic career officer who had just fought to help save the crew of USS Cole after it was bombed by terrorists in Yemen.

He tells how Russell was rousted out of bed days after the election to take a phone call from his wife that stunned him. His vote, she told him, had been disqualified. He had been deprived of his right to vote

"Mrs. Russell explained that she had just gotten home when she received a phone call from a woman at the Duval County elections office who said her husband´s absentee ballot in the presidential election had been disqualified at the urging of Democratic lawyers on behalf of Vice President Al Gore, the party´s presidential nominee,” Sammon wrote.

"A few minutes later, Mrs. Russell told her husband, she got a call from a man with the Republican Party. He confirmed that Lt. Russell´s ballot had been disqualified - along with hundreds of others that the Democrats had protested.”

Russell’s reaction was heated, he told Sammon. "I was hot. Here I am, deployed overseas. I´ve done everything I can to cast my ballot properly. And I find out my vote doesn´t count because of a lousy postmark - even though they received it before Election Day."

In early November, Russell was in the midst of a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean aboard the USS Tarawa. His ship had been detoured to Yemen because of the terrorist attack on the Cole. On arrival this dedicated officer volunteered to take charge of a tugboat to move the damaged ship to a safer mooring.

Knowing that the mail was slow and undependable, he took pains to mail his ballot early enough so that it would reach Florida by Election Day. Russell tells how he had arranged for the Duval County elections office to send him an absentee ballot.

"One of the things I´ve learned when you´re deployed overseas is the time it takes the mail to get back," Russell told Sammon. "I don´t care how quickly you throw it in the mailbox. It can take up to 30 days to get back to the States. So as soon as I got my absentee ballot, I got it witnessed [and] dated, and threw it back in the mailbox."

His ballot arrived at the Duval County elections office Nov. 6, the day before the election, about the same time he was helping play host to the grief-stricken sailors of the Cole and allowing investigators to take over his office on the Tarawa. Russell, who is proud of the fact that he had voted in every election since he was old enough to cast a ballot, was infuriated to learn from his wife on Nov. 18 that his ballot had been thrown out by Gore’s lawyers on the grounds that because it lacked a postmark he could have sent it after the election - despite the fact that it had arrived the day before the election.

"Oh, I was torqued," the lieutenant told Sammon. "Especially after that Palm Beach crap. They weren´t confused about the ballot. And yet it looked like their votes were going to be counted. But to hell with the military."

Gore’s atttempt to invalidate the votes of America’s servicemen and women was part of a strategy outlined in a memo that fell into the hands of GOP lawyers. The memo outlined the steps Gore’s lawyers were to take in challenging absentee military ballots.

One of Bush’s lawyers was a Panhandle attorney named Ed Fleming. He had been recruited to join the small army of legal experts to help stave off Gore’s attempt to reverse the election results. "There was a rumor that there was going to be concerted, organized opposition to try to keep out the military votes, and so they asked me if I would monitor the situation here in northwest Florida," Fleming told Sammon. "I knew the county attorneys around here, so I called Tom Dannheisser, who´s the county attorney in Santa Rosa County."

Dannheisser told Flemming that he had gotten his hands on a five-page memo from a Democrat lawyer dated that day that spelled out the Gore team’s shoddy game plan to disqualify military ballots. It was written by Mark Herron, a lawyer working for Gore in the postelection battle.

"Herron distributed what obviously was intended to be a confidential memo to their lawyers, to give them reasons to challenge the ballots," Fleming told Sammon. "But one of the attorneys that they hired locally to do that said, 'Well, gee, this seems good. I´ll just send it to the county attorney in advance, so he´ll know what points I´m going to make at the canvassing board meeting.´

"So he sent it to the county attorney of Santa Rosa. It was one of the dumber lawyers that had been retained by the Florida Democratic Party," Fleming said.

After having determined that the memo was a public record by virtue of having been sent to Dannheisser’s in his capacity as county attorney, Flemming carefully read what he realized was the Gore team’s "smoking gun."

The memo instructed Democrat lawyers to make "pettifogging objections” to military ballots, especially those not postmarked.

"I sent the memo up to Tallahassee that afternoon, and it all started from there," Fleming recalls with a chuckle. Upon receiving the Herron memo, the Bush command center in Tallahassee faxed it to Republican lawyers in all 67 Florida counties, Sammon wrote. The military ballots were to be publicly tallied the next day by canvassing boards across the state.

The main battlegound was Duval County, home to more military families than any other county in Florida. Duval had more absentee ballots from overseas than any other county - 618 of 3,500 cast statewide. Five Gore lawyers showed up at the elections office at 9 a.m. Friday to disqualify as many of those ballots as possible.

Tom Bishop, one of the Republican lawyers, was incensed as he watched the Democrats, armed with the smoking-gun memo, blatantly go about disqualify large numbers of military ballots.

"They had their little cheat sheet they were using, and they objected on every single possible ground they could, no matter how spurious," Bishop told Sammon. "It was so bad that there was rolling of the eyes by even some of the Democrats there who were watching their lawyers work."

Before Nov. 17, the Duval supervisor of elections compared signatures on ballot envelopes against signature cards on file. He could find only two absentee ballots that could not be included because the signatures did not match.

"But now the Democrats insisted that they be allowed to compare all signatures, one by one. For seven tedious hours, they bitterly argued that signatures on more than 100 envelopes did not precisely match the signature cards - although some envelopes had been signed by sailors on rolling seas in hostile situations,” Sammon wrote.

"You could clearly tell it was the same person´s signature, but they would object because it didn´t have a certain curlicue or didn´t have a certain twist or it was smaller," Bishop told him.

The Democrat lawyers sought to disqualify military ballots that had no overseas postmark on the grounds that some voters might have marked their ballots a day or two after the election and then mailed them in.

"But the Gore lawyers took this argument to absurd lengths by actually disqualifying ballots received before Nov. 7. One belonged to a sailor named John Russell, whose vote was unceremoniously thrown out.”

"I don´t know how somebody in the Sea of Japan or the Indian Ocean could have miraculously gotten it here on the sixth of November if it was supposedly mailed after the election," Bishop told Sammon. "The whole idea behind the foreign postmark is to make sure it´s timely." The Gore lawyers also protested ballots on which the return address of the attesting witness was incomplete. They challenged ballots on which foreign postmarks were smudged or partially illegible.

"Our goal was to challenge every vote that didn´t appear legitimate," says Mike Langton, Gore campaign chairman for northeast Florida.

By 7 p.m., the Democrats protested against 147 absentee ballots. The canvassing board agreed to hear formal arguments from the Gore and Bush camps.

A full 19 hours after it began, the nightmarish battle over Duval´s military ballots came to an end. When the canvassing board announced that the ballots of 149 soldiers, sailors and airmen had been disqualified, a pair of jubilant Gore lawyers actually exchanged high-fives for their victory against America’s service personnel.

"A Republican, visibly shaken by this sight, demanded to know how they could celebrate the disenfranchisement of U.S. military personnel risking their lives around the world. One of the Gore lawyers glibly replied: ‘A win´s a win.’" Statewide, Gore’s henchmen had been able to disqualify 1,420 ballots statewide - or more than 40 percent of the 3,500 cast.

Dick Cheney, who had overseen the Persian Gulf war as secretary of defense, was infuriated by Gore’s attempted sneak attack on America’s servicemen and women serving their nation overseas, some in harm’s way. "Of all the dirty tricks attempted by Mr. Gore during the postelection struggle, Mr. Cheney considered this the dirtiest,” Sammon wrote.

"I have strong feelings about the right of our people in uniform to vote - and they, perhaps, above all others," Cheney told him. "They´re out there putting their lives on the line for us. For the other camp to pursue a conscious strategy to try to disqualify their ballots, I thought, was bad form."

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Al Gore, who kept insisting that every vote be counted," robbed American troops serving their country overseas of their right to vote, according to Bill Sammon's investigation of Gore's shameful, underhanded fight for Florida's crucial electoral votes. To illustrate the...
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Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM
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