PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) Republican lawyers urged a federal judge yesterday to rule that hundreds of rejected overseas ballots, mostly from military personnel, should be counted in the state’s contested presidential election.
The lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier to declare the ballots valid even if they were undated, lacked postmarks, were postmarked in the United States and were not requested on time or at all.
Such a decision would say what the judge thinks the law ought to be without directly ordering the ballots counted, explained Republican lawyer Kenneth W. Sukhia, a former U.S. Attorney from Tallahassee.
It could, however, be used to persuade county canvassing boards to accept disputed overseas ballots and set a precedent for future elections, Mr. Sukhia said.
“I for one have no problem with this entire thing being changed,” testified Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Pat Hollarn, a Republican and defendant in the lawsuit. Turning to Judge Collier, she said, “I hope you find a way for us to get out of this.”
Republican George W. Bush carried Florida’s overseas voters by a 2-1 ratio over Democrat Al Gore and was certified the winner of the state by 537 votes.
Ed Fleming, a Republican lawyer from Pensacola, estimated that about 600 rejected ballots received after the Nov. 7 election could be affected by the case. He was not sure how many ballots counted on Election Day might also be affected.
Judge Collier promised a prompt ruling. A decision favoring Mr. Bush would come into play only if Mr. Gore wins contests pending in other courts.
Seven county canvassing boards initially were named as defendants, but those in Pasco and Walton counties were dropped after they accepted all ballots at issue.
That left Okaloosa, Orange, Hillsborough, Polk and Collier counties. Okaloosa’s board was represented by Mike Chesser and Miss Hollarn was his only witness. The other counties submitted written responses.
Florida accepts overseas ballots received within 10 days of an election if they were cast on or before Election Day. Ballots with overseas civilian and military postmarks were not in dispute.
However, some counties refused to count those without dates or postmarks to confirm that they were voted on time, or had domestic rather than overseas postmarks. In other counties, including Okaloosa, such ballots were accepted.
Mr. Fleming argued that postmarks are unnecessary because military ballots are mailed free and instructions failed to say voters should date them. He said some ballots were erroneously postmarked after arriving in the United States.