- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Joseph I. Lieberman distanced himself yesterday from the Democratic effort to throw out hundreds of absentee ballots cast by military members stationed overseas, but he would not join the demand that those votes be counted.
Nor would Mr. Lieberman, a senator from Connecticut and the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, rule out further lawsuits if he and his running mate, Al Gore, lose their case before the Florida Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments here this afternoon on whether to allow the state of Florida to certify a 930-vote victory by Texas Gov. George W. Bush that would give him the state's 25 electoral votes and make him the president-elect.
Making the rounds of Sunday-morning talk shows, the Connecticut senator was questioned about the 1,420 absentee ballots from overseas that were disqualified at the urging of Democratic lawyers. Citing technical reasons such as the absence of military postmarks Gore supporters disqualified 39 percent of the overseas ballots.
Many of those ballots were cast by soldiers and sailors, who were expected to favor Mr. Bush.
"Will you today, as a representative of the Gore campaign, ask every county to re-look at those ballots that came from armed services people and waive any so-called 'irregularities' or technicalities which would disqualify them?" asked Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press."
"I don't know that I have that authority," Mr. Lieberman said. "I don't believe I do legally, or in any other way."
Republicans are outraged at the disqualification campaign, which was led by Mark Herron, a Tallahassee lawyer working for the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Herron sent Democratic lawyers throughout Florida five pages of instructions on how to disqualify absentee ballots with an entire section devoted to military votes.
"I checked with our campaign last night when I heard about this because I was upset about it," Mr. Lieberman said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I've been told that the directions to our personnel from our campaign were pretty much the same as the Republican people had, which is: Just make sure the law is followed. That's all."
But on Saturday, Montana Gov. Marc Racicot called the Democratic effort nothing short of war against America's fighting men and women overseas. Yesterday, the Republican pointed out that the Defense Department openly admits it does not always affix postmarks to the mail of soldiers and sailors in far-flung theaters.
"They had nothing to do with whether or not these ballots were postmarked or not," Mr. Racicot said on "Fox News Sunday." "They've signed the ballots or dated the ballots [and] those votes ought to count."
Mr. Lieberman said while the "benefit of the doubt" should be given to absentee military voters, "it's got to be done by the law." At the same time, he emphasized that every effort should be made to divine the intentions of voters in three Democratic counties who failed to vote for a presidential candidate or voted for two.
Mr. Lieberman criticized Mr. Racicot for characterizing the Democratic ticket as anti-military.
"Those are strong words, but from all that I know of the situation, they are very unfair," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "They're unfair both to our campaign, which would never have a policy aimed at disqualifying military voters, but they are also unfair to the local election officials in the counties around Florida most of whom I think are Republicans who made the decision to disqualify those ballots."
While Mr. Lieberman was defending the Democratic ticket in Washington, Bush attorneys filed written arguments with the Florida Supreme Court. They argued that no "extraordinary circumstances" justify an extension of the statutory deadline for hand recounts, which was 5 p.m. last Tuesday.
The Bush team also pointed out that there was no fraud, no equipment malfunction and no hurricane or other act of God that would justify extending the deadline for Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which are still hand counting ballots. Bush attorneys said the decision by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to enforce the state-mandated deadline was "reasoned and reasonable."
In a surprise move, Mrs. Harris asked the court yesterday for permission to join the Bush and Gore teams in making oral arguments today.
In papers filed with the court, she asked the justices to divide the two-hour period for arguments into three 40-minute sessions for each party. Previously, the justices had allotted one hour each to the Gore and Bush camps. That is triple the time allotted for arguments in normal cases and double the time for capital cases.
The court rejected Mrs. Harris' application.
Mr. Gore spent yesterday at his residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Washington. About 150 protesters spent much of the day outside his front gate, chanting, "Go back to Tennessee," "Give us back our house," and "Count all military ballots now."
The vice president allowed a television crew to capture images of him and his wife, Tipper, jogging around the grounds of his mansion, although he made no public remarks. He canceled a trip to Nashville, opting instead to address a conference there by satellite today.
Mr. Bush maintained a similar public silence yesterday in Texas, where he monitored developments on television and by telephone.
Many of those developments unfolded on Florida's Gold Coast, the three-county area where hand counts of ballots are under way. In the latest sign of confusion and shifting standards, the Broward County Canvassing Board changed its rules on counting ballots.
For days, the board had been counting only ballots from which "chad" the tiny square of paper denoting a particular candidate had been dislodged by at least two corners. But yesterday, the board reversed itself and decided to count chads that were still attached at all four corners.
The more liberal standard involves counting ballots on which the chads are merely "dimpled" or "pregnant." Republicans immediately attacked the new rule as further evidence of the confusion and uncertainty that have plagued the hand counts from the outset.
Broward County officials said they will go back and count such ballots, which were set aside, after they finish the countywide tally, perhaps by today. It will be the fourth counting of ballots with dimpled chads.
Meanwhile, officials gave vote counters permission to brush chads onto the floor as they handle ballots. The announcement came as a GOP observer accused a Democrat of eating some of the chads during the Broward County recount.
Republican Jim Rowland told the Associated Press the Democratic floor manger licked his finger and stuck it in a pile of about 10 chads that were left on a table after counters finished a batch of ballots.
I said, " 'Sir! No! Don't do that!' " Mr. Rowland said. "But he put it in his mouth. And then he swept the rest up and put some in his pocket."
In nearby Palm Beach County, the Democratic attorney for the elections supervisor complained that Gore representative Warren Christopher asked him to use his influence to assure a hand count. The former secretary of state made the request on Thursday, prior to a Supreme Court ruling that allowed the hand count to proceed.
The lawyer, Bruce Rogow, questioned the appropriateness of calls he received from Mr. Christopher and Gore attorney Alan Dershowitz.
"It was an effort to have me persuade my client to vote in favor of starting the manual recount on Thursday," Mr. Rogow told the AP. "I told [Mr. Christopher] no. I told him we'd have to wait."
Also in Palm Beach, the chairman of the canvassing board yesterday gave ballot counters a pep talk, defending them against widespread accusations of bungling the tally. Judge Charles Burton said it was "insulting" for Democrats and Republicans to "put the message out there that this is a carnival and this is a joke."
One Palm Beach worker recently dropped a tray of ballots to the floor, where other workers stepped on them. Yesterday, Mr. Burton said when workers handle "a half million ballots, somebody's going to drop one."
Another tray of ballots was dropped yesterday in Miami-Dade County, spilling hundreds of votes to the floor. Workers also mixed together ballots with and without marks for a presidential candidate.
Republicans seized on the mishaps as further evidence of the unreliability of the hand count. But a Miami-Dade Circuit County Court denied a Republican bid to stop the tally.
As a result, Democrats ran hundreds of thousands of ballots through machines for a third time to cull those on which voters had chosen no presidential candidate. Workers will begin hand counting thousands of questionable ballots today and are not expected to finish until at least Dec. 1.
Mr. Gore hopes to pick up enough votes in the three Democratic counties to overcome the Texas governor's 930-vote lead. But he had gained only 89 votes at one point yesterday in Broward County and actually lost 12 in Palm Beach County.
If Mr. Gore fails to win the hand counts, he will give up the fight, Time magazine reported yesterday. The magazine said that message was quietly delivered to Capitol Hill Democrats last week by Mr. Christopher and Gore campaign Chairman William M. Daley.

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