19,120 Palm Beach Ballots Thrown Out

florida election ballot
CBS/AP
19,120 ballots in the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore were thrown out in a heavily Democratic Florida county, officials said Wednesday.

The number is significant in a race where 101 million votes were cast because it could turn the tide in the state where the presidency hangs in the balance.

"That total is a high number," said county Commissioner Carol Roberts, who is part of the canvassing board conducting a recount of the presidential race.

The confusion arose from the way the county's punch-card style ballot was laid out. Candidates are listed in two columns, with holes down the middle between the columns, to the right or the left of each candidate's name.

"I'm hearing outrage. I'm hearing hysteria, quite frankly. Because they feel that in overwhelming numbers they voted for Al Gore and yet their votes are not being counted," U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D) of Palm Beach County said on the CBS News Early Show.

The top hole was for Republican George W. Bush, who was listed at top left; the second hole was for Reform Party's Pat Buchanan, listed at top right, and the third hole was for Democrat Al Gore, listed under Bush on the left. Arrows linked the names with the proper hole, but some voters feared they had missed the arrows and punched the wrong hole.


Palm Beach County Ballot   (AP)SIZE>
Appearing on the Early Show, Gore campaign chairman William Daley said, "There seems to be no question that this lineup on that ballot in that county ... does violate Florida law."

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, dispatched by Bush to oversee the GOP monitoring team in Florida, angrily told NBC that Palm Beach County voters' rights were upheld, even if their ballots were thrown out.

"They did have a chance to have their voices heard," he said. "And let me tell you something else about that ballot: That ballot was posted, as required by Florida law, in newspapers and public places all over the state of Florida. Not one complaint was received about that ballot, which, by the way, was approved by a Democrat who was elected. A Democratic election supervisor approved that ballot. And we haven't heard one gripe about that ballot until after the voting took place."

Daley said his boss would win Florida. "We believe when those votes are counted and that process is complete, totally complete, Al Gore will have won the Electoral College and the popular vote and therefore will be the next president," he said.

"I went to the polls for one specific reason, to vote for Gore. I hit the second hole. I am sure I did. What was going on in my mind was somehow my right to vote had been taken away from me," said Lillian Gaines, 67, one of three residents who filed lawsuit Wednesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court seeking a new election.

The lawsuit against the canvassing board and election officials said the ballots were "deceptive, misleading and confusing."

"It was an injustice. Thousands of people were confused," said 42-year-old Niso Mama, one of about 50 sign-carrying protesters outside the Palm Beach elections office Wednesday.

Boca Raton resident Blake Smith incorrectly punched his ballot and had to ask for a second card.

"When I went to push the one for president, I pushed one and it seemed ... like I had to push one for vice president, too. Then I saw I had accidentally voted twice," Smith said.

County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat, said it is the first time the county has listed presidential candidates on two pages. She said the ballot was drawn up that way because there were so many candidates and because she wanted the names to be large enough for older people to read.

Lawyers for the Democratic Party said the ballot design is illegal and that they may ask for a re-vote in the county. No immediate action was taken by the party.

Clay Roberts, director of the Florida Department of Elections, said the ballot design problem was exaggerated.

"I don't think they are confused. I think they left the polling place and became confused," said Roberts, a Republican appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, George W.'s brother.

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