- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

The absentee-ballot situation in Florida is as confusing as the rest of the vote-counting in that state.
No one is sure exactly how many absentee ballots are still out there, but the counting of them on Saturday could well be decisive in the unfinished business of electing a president.
Florida sent out more than 19,300 ballots to people living abroad, according to an Associated Press survey of 64 of the 67 counties. About 10,000 of those were returned before Election Day and were included in the counting on Nov. 7.
Michael Jones, executive director of the Washington-based Republicans Abroad, a group that encourages voting by Americans living overseas, estimates there are between 3,000 and 5,000 still-to-be-counted absentee ballots. "We just don't know. I'm low-balling to be safe," he said in an interview.
Mark Pfeifle, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said he was told as many as 6,198 overseas absentee ballots could be received by Florida election officials. "That's the number [of Floridians abroad] … who went through the bureaucratic process of applying for an absentee ballot and who could still be expected to mail in their ballots," he said.
USA Today, which has been surveying elections offices throughout Florida, reported yesterday that about 4,000 overseas ballots have been received by 65 Florida counties since Nov. 7.
USA Today said its Florida survey found that the largest number of still-uncounted overseas ballots 1,174 were from the county that is home to the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Palm Beach County, which is heavily Democratic, had the second most, 515.
Absentee ballots, which must be postmarked by Nov. 7 and received by state election officials by midnight tomorrow, are usually mailed in by members of the U.S. military and business executives and government employees living abroad.
"Overseas Americans are a solid Republican constituency," said Joan Hills, who heads voter registration for Republicans Abroad. She said 64 percent for a Republican presidential candidate would not be unusual.
In 1996, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole won about 54 percent of the 2,300 votes from Floridians living abroad.
"Traditionally, [absentee ballots] have favored the Republican candidate, and we should say that," former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Texas Gov. George W. Bush's point man in Florida, noted at a news conference Tuesday.
Military personnel have been portrayed as accounting for the lion's share of the still-untabulated absentee ballots. And the military is viewed as more favorable to Republicans than Democrats.
But Mr. Jones said the importance of the military in postelection absentee balloting has been "overblown." He believes most absentee ballots returned by military personnel come in before the election, the result of a very aggressive voter registration campaign by the Pentagon.
Published reports yesterday based on misinformation from the U.S. Postal Service indicated that postal officials in Florida had logged fewer than 500 absentee ballots from military personnel overseas since Election Day.
Enola Rice, a Postal Service spokeswoman for the South Florida District, initially said that all U.S. military overseas mail regardless of where it's addressed "comes in through Miami." But late yesterday, Ms. Rice revised that statement, saying that the New York and San Francisco postal centers also collect military mail. So they, too, could be handling absentee ballots from Floridians in the military who live abroad.
Miss Rice said that from Nov. 8 through Nov. 14, a total of 541 absentee ballots from military personnel overseas have been collected at the Miami postal center. The most received on one day, she said, was 152; the least was six.
Miss Rice could not say how many absentee ballots were submitted by civilians from Florida living overseas since the election. That's because the civilian mail is not sent to a central location, as the military mail is, she said.
Bush supporters have said repeatedly they believe the election will be decided by the absentee ballots.
But they are nervous about absentee ballots sent in by Florida Jews now living in Israel, which could favor Vice President Al Gore and his Jewish running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.
The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel says about half of the Florida expatriates living in Israel cast absentee ballots in this year's election. But it's not clear how many remain to be counted.

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