- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

The polls tell us that 56 percent of Americans agreeing with Tuesday's Florida Supreme Court ruling want all of the hand-counted ballots included in the final count of Florida's hotly disputed presidential election.

But many of these fair-minded people might think twice about including these ballots in the objective, machine-counted vote if they could see how they were being mystically "divined," guessed at, twisted, torn, poked, taped, misplaced and altered.

What is going on in the very heavily Democratic counties that the vice president wants recounted in South Florida is nothing short of scandalous. And that's being charitable. It isn't an even-handed process, it isn't fair, and it certainly doesn't fit any description of democracy at work like Al Gore wants us to believe.

Consider these reported events that have been happening during the hand recount, largely conducted by Democratic county officials:

• More than 200 chads, torn or punched out of the ballot cards, were found discarded on the floor at the Broward County Emergency Operations Center where the recount was taking place. Another 78 of the chads were discovered earlier, evidence that a lot of the vote cards, which were not counted because the hole by each candidate's name was not punched out, were being altered to show a vote for Mr. Gore.

• Then last Saturday another 142 discarded chads were discovered by Republican observers as both sides continued to battle over whether to count "pregnant chads," the tiny paper rectangles that are indented but not separated from the ballot.

• At least five chads had been Scotch-taped back onto ballot holes in an effort to cancel a vote for George W. Bush.

• In other suspicious irregularities, Bush ballots were found stacked with Gore ballots (and counted as Gore votes?). In some cases, ballots have been spilled on the floor, stepped on, and handled roughly by elections officials. Some were seen being used as fans by ballot-counters working in the overheated rooms. Other observers reported elderly vote counters squinting at ballots and at the brink of exhaustion from working 14-hour days.

• In Palm Beach County, an elections canvassing board official "twisted the ballots and poked her finger directly in sections of, and aggressively handled, the ballots," according to an affidavit.

• At least 39 convicted felons, who by law are not permitted to vote, have cast absentee ballots in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

• In heavily Democratic Volusia County, a bag of ballots and a voting machine were found in the back seat of a county poll clerk's car, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

One of the most outrageous abuses was the total rejection of some 1,400 overseas absentee ballots, mostly from military servicemen serving our country abroad, who voted heavily for Mr. Bush. The reason given by Democratic vote officials: The ballot envelopes were not postmarked, though military mail often is sent without postmarks in the rush to get on late-departing aircraft or trucks from ships and distant outposts.

It was a new low in the Gore campaign's attempts to drive down the vote especially in light of Mr. Gore's arguments that all votes should be counted.

Party vote-counters were acting on instructions from a Democratic operative who sent around a detailed memo instructing them on what to look for such as absent postmarks to disqualify as many of Mr. Bush's military votes as possible.

Dumping military votes was easily the most disgraceful act in the whole hand-count scandal and clearly put the Gore camp on the defensive. Even Mr. Gore's loyal running mate, Joe Lieberman, was squirming Sunday, trying to defend the indefensible, but he stuck with the party line. It showed that Mr. Gore would stop at nothing to turn defeat into victory through a deeply dishonest recount.

These and other abuses in the recount represented "clear and compelling evidence" that it was "completely untrustworthy," said Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, a close Bush adviser.

The last straw may have been when the Miami-Dade canvassing board's Democratic members voted to bar news reporters from their recount, an outrageous media blackout of a public proceeding that looked like something out of a banana republic or worse, the old Soviet Union.

But the outrageous political ruling by Florida' high court, which has usurped the power of the state government's executive and legislative branches, and changed the election rules in the middle of the game, should not be allowed to stand. This is not "due process of law" as provided for in the U.S. Constitution. And I do not think the ruling can withstand scrutiny by the US. Supreme Court, which is where this case ultimately should be decided.

The American people, bless their hearts, are always on the side of basic fairness. But they also want this over and done with as soon as possible. Hang in there. One way or another, it will be.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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