Judge Will Hear Absentee Ballot Challenge

An employee of the Leon County Elections Office holds an overseas absentee ballot, sent from India, prior to a Leon County Elections Canvassing Board hearing in Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday, Nov. 17, 2000
A Florida judge has set a hearing on charges seeking to discard all 15,000 absentee ballots cast in Seminole County, a move that could determine the result of the presidential election.

On Monday, Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson agreed to hear the case on Nov. 27, saying she wanted to allow a week for the parties to gather evidence.

Republican George W. Bush won the east central Florida county, in part because he won 10,006 absentee votes to Gore's 5,209. Throwing out Seminole's absentee ballots would overturn Bush's lead of 930 votes out of 6 million cast in Florida, a state either man needs to win the presidency.

A Seminole County man, Democrat Harry Jacobs, sued to disqualify the absentee ballots. He alleged that the county's election supervisor, a Republican, broke the law by allowing Republican party volunteers to fill in missing data on about 4,700 absentee ballot requests that might otherwise would have been rejected as incomplete.

Applicants were supposed to list their voter identification numbers on the absentee ballot request forms, but many did not and the party workers filled them in at the election supervisor's office, Jacobs' lawsuit alleged.

Many of the requests resulted from a mass mailing by the Florida Republican Party, urging voters to use absentee ballots.

Jacobs insists that the fact that Republicans were allowed to fix the ballot applications violated state law. But he says he was more bothered by the fact that Goard didn't extend the same opportunity for Democratic requests that also contained mistakes.

Eight voters who cast absentee ballots joined the lawsuit, and their attorneys urged Nelson to dismiss the case during a brief hearing on Saturday. Nelson ruled on Monday that the case could proceed.

While it may seem unlikely that a judge would be willing to throw out 15,000 votes, the Los Angeles Times reports there is a precedent to the case. In 1998, a Miami judge threw out all 5,000 absentee ballots in the mayoral election following charges of vote tampering. Mayor Xavier Suarez was forced to step down, giving the position to his opponent Joe Carollo.

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