December 6, 2000
Betty Ann Bowser reports on the battle over absentee ballots.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In two Tallahassee courtrooms today, Democrats weren't trying to get thousands of votes recounted; they were trying to get them thrown out. In the courtroom of Leon County Circuit Court Judge Nikki Clark, Attorney Gerald Richman challenged the legality of all 15,000 absentee ballots cast from Seminole County. Richman claimed Republican officials added voter identification numbers to 2,100 incomplete GOP absentee ballot applications. And he charged similar applications from Democrats were thrown out.
GERALD RICHMAN: This is the process in Seminole County: Request comes in here, then it goes through the process of being validated. They look to see whether or not all the statutory requirements are there. If they don't have it... if they have it, it goes here and it's entered into the system. And once it's entered into the system, then they print the label, they issue the ballot, and it goes to the voter. Those that decide to vote return the ballot. The ballot gets counted and it ultimately gets entered into the precinct books. But here is the problem in red. When you get to the validation process, we had one batch for rejected Republicans and everyone else gets put elsewhere. And guess what? There is no arrow here, because they stopped at that point. But here, the Republican operative comes in and he moves these along in terms of disparate treatment to get entered into the system. That is the crux, illustratively, of what happened.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Richman singled out the actions of election supervisor Sandra Goard, a registered Republican. Goard did not testify today, but a portion of her deposition was read aloud.
SPOKESPERSON: (reading of Goard deposition) As the requests came in, we put the post card in one specific box.
SPOKESMAN: So you took post cards which you knew were from the Republican Party and put these in a box separate from the other absentee ballot request forms that were rejected, is that correct?
SPOKESMAN: And did you ever follow that procedure before?
SPOKESMAN: Why is it you followed that procedure in this case?
SPOKESPERSON: Because we were requested do allow an individual to write the voter registration number on those postcards that had been mailed out.
SPOKESMAN: Who made that request?
SPOKESPERSON: The Republican Party.
SPOKESMAN: And with regard to those postcards did somebody sort out the ones that had come in before he arrived there so that they would be made available to him when he arrived?
SPOKESMAN: Who did that sorting out?
SPOKESPERSON: Most likely that would have been my administrative assistant Charlene. She's the one who handles the mail that comes in.
SPOKESMAN: At any time was anyone from the Democratic Party made aware of the fact that the representative of the Republican Party was doing this?
SPOKESMAN: What was happening is, is a representative of the Republican Party was the one who was going ahead and resubmitting them after having added information to those cards without the knowledge of the Democratic Party and without any provision of the statute that says they could do so, isn't that correct?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Terry Young, an attorney representing both the Seminole County canvassing board, and Sandra Goard, spoke in her defense.
TERRY YOUNG: She's no different than any other supervisor of election in the state of Florida in that she has some type of party affiliation, just like every judge in Leon County probably has party affiliation. That doesn't taint her in the performance of her duties of her office. She has no vested interest in the outcome of the election; she has no vested interest in that whatsoever. Her only vested interest is that every legally cast vote -- absentee vote -- that was timely received and compliant with the law as an absentee ballot is counted.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And Daryl Bristow, an attorney for the Bush campaign, argued the evidence doesn't warrant throwing out 15,000 ballots.
DARYL BRISTOW: This is a case that has to do with the question of the integrity of the ballot that was cast. If we were talking about some problem with integrity of the process, we might be talking about some case to throw out an election, which is not something this court is in a position to do. We are talking about a ballot to question the process of an election and then to punish 15,000 voters who had nothing to do with the issue complained of is improper disparate treatment.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: An almost identical case, this one challenging nearly 10,000 absentee ballots from Martin County, began pre-trial hearings at 7:00 this morning right next door in the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis. In fact, several lawyers are participating in both cases.
JUDGE TERRY LEWIS: Well, by my count, from what I looked at in the file, I have about 19 motions. And we don't have a whole lot of time. Judge Clark will begin in 3D at 8:30 so I need to quit about 8:20 to give you all a chance to move over. Whoever is left standing after this we should be over in 3D when we reconvene, so it's a lot easier and everybody doesn't have to go back and forth. Does that sound all right?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In this case Democrats charge 669 ballot applications were tampered with and in some cases removed from the election supervisor's office. Later in the day, Judge Lewis ultimately decided to delay further action in his trial until the case before Judge Clark had been presented. Al Gore is not a party in these court contests. But either case could swing the results of the presidential election in Florida. George W. Bush beat Gore by a margin of 2,815 absentee ballots in Martin County, and by 4,797 absentee ballots in Seminole County. Late this afternoon leaders of the Republican controlled Florida legislature explained why they will convene a special session on Friday.
TOM FEENEY: We have a duty to protect Florida's participation in the electoral college, and I have a hope I believe most of my colleagues in the House, that the electoral issues may be resolved without the necessary of the legislature taking final action. But there appears to be a great risk that our electors are now not within the safe harbor that the United States Supreme Court described the either day in referring to Title III of the United States code.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: A top Florida Democrat called the special session a travesty.
LOIS FRANKEL: I think this will set a dangerous precedent for this country. What if any state legislature that was dissatisfied with the results of an election would call their members together to go around the will of their voters? And I believe that would create a very chaotic situation in our electoral process.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And tomorrow the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Al Gore's appeal of a lower court decision that prevented hand counting thousands of South Florida ballots.