Judge Upholds Democrat's Lawsuit Over Absentee Applications
SANFORD, Fla. -- Democrat Harry Jacobs, a personal injury lawyer, has sued an election official in Seminole County, Sandra Goard, the county election canvassing board and the Republican Party--charging that the election chief improperly allowed two GOP operatives to set up shop in her office for 10 days sometime before the Nov. 7 election, and then allowed them to fix thousands of incomplete requests for absentee ballots that had been sent in by GOP voters.
Jacobs has demanded that the court throw out all of the county's 17,000 absentee ballots--10,006 of which went to Republican George W. Bush. Democrat Al Gore won 5,209 of the absentee votes. In the improbable math of the 2000 presidential election, Seminole County has provided yet another way for Gore to erase Bush's 900-plus-vote lead and win the White House.
Judge Denies GOP Motion to Dismiss Democrat's Suit
In Monday's ruling, county Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, a recent appointee of Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, denied a GOP motion to dismiss Jacobs' lawsuit and said she would go ahead with a hearing on the case next Monday. NEXT: MARCHING ORDERS: BBBR ACTIVISM HQ
Underscoring the importance of the dispute, the state Republican Party and the Bush campaign sent more than half a dozen representatives to the courthouse to pick up copies of Nelson's order and provide some spin to the news media.
"Al Gore just cannot accept defeat," fumed Seminole County's Republican chairman Jim Stelling, who believes the GOP will win the case next week.
"I don't think any judge in the land is going to want to throw out 15,000 votes," he said.
Jacobs said he was "delighted" by Monday's ruling and noted a precedent: In 1998, a judge in Miami threw out all 5,000 absentee ballots in the previous year's mayoral election over charges of tampering. As a result, Mayor Xavier Suarez had to step down and hand City Hall over to his opponent Joe Carollo. (cont'd.) PART II, and DIMPLES
Both sides in the Seminole County dispute agree on the central facts of the case. At some point before the election, Republicans statewide sent out a mailer to voters that included an absentee ballot application. But there was a problem: The vendor who produced the mailers neglected to include any reference to voter identification numbers, which are required by Florida law.
After realizing the mistake, the party sent two staffers to Goard's office. With her blessing, they went through the applications and, using a voter registration database, added the voter identification numbers to each application.
Ballots then were sent to the voters involved, who had no reason to know that their applications had been amended.
Democrat Who Filed Suit Cites Unequal Opportunity
Jacobs said he wasn't so much bothered by the fact that the Republicans were allowed to fix the applications--although he insisted that it violated state law--as he was that Goard didn't extend the same opportunity to Democrats who made mistakes in their applications.
"If she had given access to others . . . then it would be a little harder to complain," he said. "She didn't do that, and that's what's so important in this instance. . . . She walked hand in hand with the Republican Party in Seminole County to get out the vote for the Republicans."
He said he knew of at least one family in which a woman who was a Republican filled out the application and received her ballot normally, while her husband, a Democrat, hand-wrote an application and didn't receive his. The man later was able to get a ballot after complaining to election officials.
Jacobs speculated that "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of other Democratic voters did not receive the absentee ballots they requested. "So it's very one-sided, very selective and very well could have affected the outcome of the race," he said.