- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

Platoons of lawyers moved in behind voters yesterday, seeking to win in the courts the battles candidates lost at the polls.

Complaints of ballot monkeyshines were filed in several critical states most loudly from Florida, where the entire presidential election hung by a thread with fewer than 1,800 votes separating winner and loser out of more than 6 million ballots cast.

"Clearly, there are all kinds of voting irregularities in this state," says Sen.-elect Bill Nelson, a Democrat, who says the presidential race might not have been included on ballots in four precincts where he says his Senate candidacy was omitted.

"A recount is clearly in order, and an investigation would appear to be also," Mr. Nelson says.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which mounted an unprecedented $12 million get-out-the-vote campaign this year, also has called on the Justice Department to look into complaints of voting irregularities in Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey and New York.

"We have grave concerns that these and other acts may violate the 15th Amendment to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965," says NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, a former Democratic congressman from Maryland.

Questions about election irregularities include:

• Missouri Republicans sought to correct the results of a court order obtained by the Gore-Lieberman campaign to keep open beyond normal hours inner-city polling places in St. Louis while hundreds of unregistered voters were signed up at the city election office.

• New Mexico officials say 60,000 absentee ballots in largely Democratic Albuquerque apparently were uncounted because of a computer programming error, raising eyebrows but not expectations in a state already narrowly in Mr. Gore's column. The error was caught because the total Bernalillo County turnout was a low 44 percent 138,081 out of 312,341 registered voters.

• In an apparent false alarm at DeLand, Fla., sheriff's deputies impounded Volusia County's ballots and sealed the voting office after an election worker was seen leaving the office with several boxes. Officials say later no ballots were removed, but kept the office under guard as a precaution.

In other places there were bipartisan complaints that harried officials turned eligible voters away from crowded polling places and Missouri election officials registered new voters after the books were closed.

One remarkable election not likely to draw a legal challenge was that of a dead man, whose victory raised constitutional questions by defeating Sen. John Ashcroft, Missouri Republican.

Mr. Ashcroft said yesterday he would not oppose the appointment of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan's widow, Jean, to his Senate seat when his term ends in January, and would not support anyone else who does.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, chairman of the Republican senatorial committee, appeared to put to rest speculation a Republican-led Senate might choose to reseat Mr. Ashcroft.

"I spoke with Senator Ashcroft this morning. It is my intention to honor his request… . We have no plans whatever to challenge the contest in Missouri," Mr. McConnell said.

Many of the early threats to raise legal challenges to Florida's election came from Republicans, while Democrats celebrated the premature media declaration that Mr. Gore had won the state. By yesterday, it was Democrats talking about action while Republican officials discounted the need.

Complicating the Florida situation is the fact that state Attorney General Bob Butterworth also heads the Gore-Lieberman campaign in Florida, playing much the same role as Gov. Jeb Bush on behalf of his brother.

Mr. Butterworth, a Democrat, may play a supervisory role and his office already was fielding complaints of voting violations, but he says the counting is totally in the hands of Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican.

"We're getting a lot of calls about voting irregularities," said Trish Spillan, the Florida attorney general's spokeswoman, who also said that former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, an ally from the tobacco wars, had arrived to advise Mr. Butterworth.

Both candidates' choices to head the legal teams underscored the all-or-nothing stakes Florida's 25 electoral votes that would tip the balance for either man.

Mr. Gore chose former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Mr. Bush's champion is former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

"This is probably going to be identical to the results that are already published," predicted Jano Cabrera, a spokesman at Gore-Lieberman headquarters, who said lawyers may follow up in court.

"If at that point any allegations of voter fraud or vote irregularities become relevant they can go to court and seek a correction. The parties can challenge the state count in state courts," Mr. Cabrera said.

The Democratic National Committee and the Gore campaign both dispatched legal teams, reported to total about 70 people, headed up by Mr. Christopher and Ron Klain, a senior adviser to Mr. Gore, along with Democratic Party counsel Joe Sandler.

American Bar Association President Martha Barnett, whose office is in Tallahassee, also joined Gore campaign strategy talks. "We're meeting with the campaign to talk about the issues," she said.

"Both campaigns were invited to send officials down to the state this morning. Democratic members and lawyers who are supporters were dispatched," said Mr. Cabrera who declined to provide specifics.

The St. Louis dispute arose after Democrats, including lawyers for the Gore campaign, got a state circuit judge to extend voting hours in the Democratic stronghold of St. Louis beyond 7 p.m., but not elsewhere in the state.

A three-judge appeals court overruled that order, but not before the inner-city polls remained open almost an hour past the statewide closing time.

• Sean Scully contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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