- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

The uncounted ballots in Florida which have played a key role in Democratic challenges are just a drop in the bucket of ballots dismissed nationwide because of voter error, say political observers.

An estimated 180,000 votes were dismissed in Florida out of 6.1 million votes cast because of improper voting procedures.

However, more than 2 million ballots were tossed out in all 50 states and also will not be counted, said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

Mr. Gans estimates that between 1 percent and 1.8 percent of votes cast or 2.1 million to 2.8 million ballots were eliminated nationally.

"These are people who by one form or another did not accurately do their ballot, and it was thereby thrown out for one reason or another," Mr. Gans said.

Vice President Al Gore is contesting the election in Florida based on "incomplete and inaccurate" vote tallies. The official count announced Sunday night gave Republican George W. Bush a 537-vote victory in Florida and the state's 25 electoral votes.

"If we ignore the votes that have been cast, then where does that lead?" Mr. Gore asked rhetorically in a telephone call yesterday to congressional Democrats. "The integrity of our democracy depends upon the consent of the governed, freely expressed in an election where every vote is counted."

"What is at issue here is nothing less than every American's simple, sacred right to vote," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Mr. Gore's running mate.

"How can we teach our children that every vote counts if we are not willing to make a good-faith effort to count every vote?" the Connecticut Democrat asked Sunday after Florida's secretary of state certified election returns.

The every-vote-must-count mantra makes sense on paper, but election experts say it is not feasible to count every vote cast, and in this case is "sheer hypocrisy," said Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican and an election lawyer.

"Clearly, they do not believe that every vote should count. These thoughts are impeached by their attempts to get military overseas ballots thrown out, and also impeached by the fact they did not ask for a manual recount in any of the remaining Florida counties which also used punch-card ballots," Mr. Shadegg said.

"Realistically, the answer is no, you cannot count every vote," said Doug Lewis, director of the Election Center, an international service association of election and voter registration officials.

Sometimes, voters fail through their own error to turn a ballot into a vote.

"Obviously, if the voter votes in a manner where it is impossible to determine their intent or that they voted for too many people, then you have no choice but to remove that vote from the count," Mr. Lewis said.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said it is a known factor that a certain percentage of votes is discarded during machine counts. Mr. Craig said every effort is made to create uniformity and fairness in counting votes, but it does not mean every vote can be counted.

"While that is frustrating to some, it has never been that way," Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Craig said the quick reaction by Mr. Gore's campaign to ask for recounts indicates they were prepared in advance of Election Day to ask for hand counts in heavily Democratic counties to swing a close vote.

"This was a well thought-out and planned strategy in advance. When Al Gore said he would do anything and everything to win this election, we must take him at his word," Mr. Craig said.

Contacted by The Washington Times, several secretary of state offices said they do not keep numbers on how many ballots are thrown out after an election, but "rejected ballots are a normal occurrence," said a spokeswoman in the Alabama secretary of state's office.

Secretaries of state across the country have formed a committee to study election-reform issues raised in this election, said Leslie Reynolds, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State.

"We've been looking at these issues for a long time. Now, everyone is interested," Miss Reynolds said.

Every vote would count "if we get rid of the rickety machines," said Al Felzenberg, visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

"Voting should not be a mysterious or burdensome process," Mr. Felzenberg said.

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