- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Hope faded for Republicans yesterday that Florida officials would reconsider disqualified overseas absentee ballots in the presidential election, as counties shrugged off the state attorney general's advice for a recount.
"It's not a legal opinion," said Democrat Bill Cowles, Orange County supervisor of elections, of the attorney general's advisory. "We were already aware of the issue, and the Orange County canvassing board is currently not scheduled to reconvene."
State Attorney General Robert Butterworth, co-chairman of Vice President Al Gore's Florida campaign, called upon election officials yesterday and Monday to reconsider ballots that were rejected at the behest of the Gore team because of various technicalities, such as the lack of a postmark.
Many of those ballots came from U.S. military personnel stationed abroad. The Gore team has been rocked by accusations that it systematically sought to discredit military absentee ballots in Florida.
But many county elections officials said they were bound by law not to reconsider the rejected absentee ballots, and noted that Mr. Butterworth's opinion was not binding legally. Republicans yesterday decried Mr. Butterworth's efforts as toothless posturing to salvage the Gore campaign's image.
Mindy Tucker, a spokeswoman for the campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, said Democrats "realize it bothered a lot of Americans that they would target the military for their own personal political gain."
A Republican close to the Bush campaign said yesterday of Mr. Butterworth's actions, "It's all show. [Mr. Butterworth] has no authority. It is nothing but more of a charade."
Mr. Bush, the Republican nominee, won the absentee ballots by a 2-to-1 ratio, extending his lead in the overall statewide tally to 930 votes. But Bush aides believe the Republican lost another 300 to 800 votes because of what they call the Gore team's coordinated, systematic challenges to the absentee ballots.
At a rally in Miami yesterday, Republican Reps. Steve Buyer of Indiana and John E. Sweeney of New York called on state officials to reconsider the overseas absentee ballots.
"The state of Florida should also extend their respect to the men and women who wear the uniform and are serving our country abroad," said Mr. Buyer, a member of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees. "Floridians serving in uniform, who may live and work in dangerous locations around the world, should not be disenfranchised because of circumstances requiring the delivery of their ballots without a postmark."
Mr. Buyer congratulated the state attorney general for "seeing the light" in calling for the overseas ballots to be reconsidered. But the congressman also acknowledged that Mr. Butterworth had created more confusion about whether to include ballots that were not signed and dated.
"He issued an opinion yesterday that said if it didn't have a postmark, it should be counted," Mr. Buyer said. "But he also said that it should be signed and dated. Now, where do we go from here?"
Miss Tucker said the overseas absentee ballots do not have a space for a signature or date.
"I'm still uncertain what practical effect this has on anything," she said of Mr. Butterworth's advisory.
Mr. Buyer said any overseas ballot that was received by a local canvassing board on or before Election Day should be counted.
"Military personnel cannot control the means by which their ballots are delivered," he said. "And that's why the attorney general, I think, tried to do some damage control here, and I want to applaud him for his efforts."
Retired Gen. Colin Powell, a candidate to become secretary of state if Mr. Bush wins the presidency, also weighed in on the issue this week. He told reporters at a dedication at Fort Hamilton, N.Y., on Monday that he was "troubled" by the wholesale rejection of military ballots.
"We shouldn't disenfranchise our GIs if there's anything we can do to avoid it," Mr. Powell said. "All those GIs in Broward County, Florida, are going to learn that 75 percent of their absentee ballots were thrown aside. At the same time, we're trying to divine the intent of dimples on the other ballots."
As the Democrats continued to suffer public-relations fallout over the rejected military votes, they called in one of their party's decorated war veterans, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, to defend the Gore campaign.
"I saw irresponsible things being said by the Bush campaign that the vice president was stealing votes, that there's election fraud, that somehow that he's incompetent to be commander in chief," Mr. Kerrey said. "Those are all reckless, they're irresponsible and they're wrong."
Mr. Kerrey said military personnel often are to blame for casting incorrect ballots.
"In the military, we accept responsibility for our mistakes," Mr. Kerrey said. "We don't blame it on somebody else.
"If I'm not prepared, and I didn't get the word, and I come to my commanding officer and say, 'Gee, I'm sorry, captain, I didn't get the word,' my commanding officer will say, 'Lieutenant, failure to get the word is no excuse.' In the day after these [ballot] accusations are made, what we're discovering is signatures are not there, voter IDs are not there, addresses are not there, witnesses aren't there. Personally, I think the military should not be treated any differently than any other citizen," he said.
Mr. Kerrey offered this challenge to Republicans: "If they want to bring a legal case, let them bring a legal case."
A law firm in Texas plans to do just that. Attorney Philip Jones of San Antonio said yesterday he will file a class-action lawsuit within days to enable disenfranchised military personnel overseas a chance to vote.
Mr. Jones, who specializes in veterans' issues, said in an interview that he has been inundated this week with e-mail messages from servicemen and women abroad who complained that they did not receive absentee ballots as requested.
While the case does not center specifically on Florida, Mr. Jones said, "hundreds" of the messages he has received are from Florida residents stationed overseas.
"We're asking for these people to be allowed to vote now," he said.
Also yesterday, Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, called for "immediate" congressional hearings on absentee voting for overseas military personnel.
"Events in Florida have indicated our military voting system may be open to partisan manipulation by candidates willing to put ambition ahead of patriotism," Mr. Barr wrote to the House Government Reform Committee.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide