Tags: Seminole | County | Ballot | Dispute | Moves | Tallahassee

Seminole County Ballot Dispute Moves to Tallahassee

Monday, 27 November 2000 12:00 AM

The suit seeks to disqualify 15,000 absentee ballots recorded in Seminole County because of Democrat claims of illegal tampering.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson made the decision after the Republican Party of Florida and the Seminole County canvassing board sought to dismiss the suit, filed last week by a prominent Democrat lawyer on behalf of the Gore campaign.

"We'll be filing a new complaint in Tallahassee this afternoon of essentially the same issues," said attorney Gerald Richman, who is representing plaintiff Harry Jacobs, a Democrat trial lawyer from Orlando.

The suit alleges that the elections supervisor in Seminole County illegally permitted Republicans to add required registration numbers to more than 4,700 ballots after they had already been returned by voters.

Since these ballots cannot be distinguished from 15,000 absentee ballots in the county, they all should be thrown out, the suit claimed.

"We're saying that the whole pool is tainted, that it all should be thrown out," Richman said.

Notably, Democrats have not sought the exclusion of votes in Democrat-dominated counties such as Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, in which numerous "irregularities" have been noted.

Absentee voters in conservative Seminole County favored Bush over his Democrat rival Al Gore by a margin of two to one in the presidential race. Therefore, having all the county's ballots discarded would mean a net gain for Gore statewide and, pending court decisions, the 25 electoral votes he needs to take over the presidency.

Approximately 4,700 absentee ballots were sent out without registration numbers in the spring and summer. After they came back, elections supervisor Sandra Gourd, a Republican, announced the ballots would not be counted without a registration number.

The suit alleges that Gourd allowed Republicans to come in and add the appropriate registration number to each absentee ballot, checking names on the ballots with registration lists that were available to the county.

"The applications were thus altered, allowing people to vote who otherwise would not have voted, while the Democratic Party was not given the same opportunity," Richman said.

According to the suit, Goard allowed two GOP employees to add the ID numbers. The staffers spent days at the county elections office with a laptop computer, matching ballot requests to names and writing the identification numbers on the requests, it said.

Democrats also sent voters preprinted applications, but the Republican mailings had voters' birth dates on the form instead of the required voter registration numbers.

State law allows only voters, members of their immediate family or their legal guardians to request absentee ballots, but does not specifically address the handling of absentee requests.

The Republican-controlled Florida legislature passed the strict requirement for absentee ballots in the wake of Miami's absentee scandal in the 1998 mayoral race. In that race, Xavier Suarez, who thought he had won the election, was instead beaten by the incumbent Joe Carollo, when a judge threw out the absentee ballots – hundreds of which had signatures that didn't match the alleged voters' handwriting.

Richman contends that what happened in Seminole County is essentially the same.

"We think we've got a clear-cut case of ballot tampering," Richman said.

"We know we're right on liability. The question is, what remedy should be gotten for what is clear-cut tampering with the process and basically intentional wrongdoing."

Richman said he hoped the Leon County court would hear the case "in the next couple of days."

Calls to the Republican Party in Florida for comment were not returned.

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The suit seeks to disqualify 15,000 absentee ballots recorded in Seminole County because of Democrat claims of illegal tampering. Circuit Judge Debra Nelson made the decision after the Republican Party of Florida and the Seminole County canvassing board sought to dismiss...
Seminole,County,Ballot,Dispute,Moves,Tallahassee
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2000-00-27
Monday, 27 November 2000 12:00 AM
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