- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. The Rev. Jesse Jackson led an angry rally yesterday to protests confusing ballots that invalidated more than 19,000 votes in Tuesday's presidential election.

"You cannot disenfranchise 19,000 voters," Mr. Jackson told hundreds of protesters who marched on the Palm Beach County government office building shouting "We want justice" and "Bush is going down."

With the presidential election hinging on Florida's 25 electoral votes and Republican George W. Bush winning the state by just 1,784 votes, according to official returns announced yesterday, the Palm Beach dispute is at the center of Democratic hopes of winning the White House for Vice President Al Gore.

At issue in Palm Beach County is a so-called "butterfly" ballot that Mr. Gore's supporters claim caused some Democratic voters to mistakenly cast their votes for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan or else to punch both the Gore and Buchanan lines, invalidating their ballots.

Mr. Gore easily carried Tuesday's vote in Palm Beach County a heavily Democratic urban community getting 268,945 votes to Mr. Bush's 152,846, according to official returns.

Voter registration data show Democrats are 45 percent and Republicans 35 percent of Palm Beach County's voters. Tuesday, Mr. Gore and Democratic Senate candidate Bill Nelson each carried 62 percent of the county's vote. Democrat Rep. Robert Wexler, who represents the eastern part of the county, was re-elected with 73 percent of the vote Tuesday.

Gore supporters insisted that confusion caused by the ballot design was the only explanation for Mr. Buchanan's 3,407 votes in Palm Beach County where he got nearly 17 percent of his total Florida vote of 20,294.

However, in the 1996 Republican presidential primary, Mr. Buchanan got 8,778 votes in Palm Beach County. After leaving the Republican party last year, Mr. Buchanan won the nomination of the Reform Party, whose founder, Ross Perot, got 30,739 votes in Palm Beach County in 1996.

The Bush campaign yesterday depicted the county as a Buchanan stronghold where voter registration for the Reform, American Reform and independent parties has increased 110 percent since the 1996 presidential election.

Bush strategist Karl Rove said Mr. Buchanan raised about 5 percent of his statewide funds in Palm Beach County for this election and that one of the Reform candidate's relatives lives there.

"This is a county where [Mr. Buchanan] has an active core group of volunteers led by a relative," Mr. Rove said. "It's a part of the country where there are enclaves of strong conservatives."

Mr. Jackson met privately yesterday with local leaders to discuss their concerns that a large number of black voters Palm Beach County is 14.5 percent black had difficulty with the ballots.

"We need to keep the pressure on. The people are demanding democracy with integrity," Mr. Jackson told The Washington Times after the meeting.

"Whatever remedy is chosen needs to be the remedy that most ensures that every resident in Palm Beach County has their vote counted," Mr. Wexler said.

The county's "butterfly" ballot, showing the presidential pairings alternately on the left and right sides, listed Mr. Bush and Republican running mate Richard B. Cheney first.

Gore supporters claim confusion resulted because, while the Democratic ticket was the second listing on the left side of the ballot, the Reform Party line intervened on the right side. Voters who punched the second slot in the center column, thinking they were choosing Mr. Gore and running mate Joseph I. Lieberman, would actually have voted for Mr. Buchanan and his running mate Ezola Foster.

The unusual ballot was designed by Palm Beach County election supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat. She said the ballot was drawn the way it was because there were so many candidates and she wanted the names to be large enough for older people to read.

"That ballot was posted, as required by Florida law, in newspapers and public places all over the state of Florida, said James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state sent to represent Mr. Bush's interests in Florida. "And we haven't heard one gripe about that ballot until after the voting took place."

An automatic recount that began Wednesday produced a net gain of 643 additional votes for the vice president in Palm Beach County, according to an unofficial count by the Associated Press. After receiving formal protests yesterday, election officials here said they would make yet another recount tomorrow.

Protesters at the county office building said the ballot design definitely influenced the outcome of the election.

Max Drier, a retired Palm Beach County resident, said the confusing ballot led him to vote mistakenly for Mr. Buchanan, which he then tried to correct by punching the ballot again to cast a vote for Mr. Gore.

"My original vote was for Buchanan, but I wanted to make sure I voted for Gore. I didn't realize if I punched in two votes that my ballot would be invalidated," said Mr. Drier, who filed a formal protest with Palm Beach County yesterday.

Some Republicans showed up at the county office building yesterday to make their voices heard in a counterprotest. Steve Ellis, a 52-year old Palm Beach County resident, said the Democrats' zeal for another vote has tarnished the county and the election.

"I just want the country and the world to know that not everyone is Florida is a sore loser," he said. "We're being portrayed as a bunch of people who can't tell the difference between two words: Gore and Buchanan."

• Dave Boyer in Austin, Texas, contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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