Gore has case for challenging Florida election, experts say

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Florida’s Supreme Court has given judges in the state broad power to overturn an election if flawed ballots create "reasonable doubt" that the outcome truly reflects "the will of the voters."

The law is not clear, however, on how to remedy such a mistake, especially when a flawed ballot in one county might have changed a statewide result — let alone possibly determine the outcome of a national election for president of the United States.

Democratic lawyers in Florida were pointing Thursday to legal decisions that give them a basis for going to court to challenge the outcome there because of ballot confusion in Palm Beach County.

In an opinion issued in 1998, the Florida Supreme Court said that disputed elections can be voided even when there is no evidence of fraud or vote stealing. The justices stressed that election results should reflect the will of the voters.

"If a court finds substantial noncompliance with statutory election procedures and also makes a factual determination that reasonable doubt exists as to whether the certified election expressed the will of the voters, then (the judge should) void the contested election, even in the absence of fraud or intentional wrongdoing," the state Supreme Court said.

Election law experts in Florida and elsewhere said that they thought the campaign of Vice President Al Gore had a fairly strong claim of voting irregularities.

"I think you can make out a highly persuasive case" that the ballots used in Palm Beach County violated the law, said University of Miami Law Professor Terence Anderson. The ballot did not meet all the standards written in state law and voters were confused, he said.

However, Columbia University’s Samuel Issacharoff, a national voting rights expert, said that federal law could be compromised if new county elections are ordered.

"There is important federal policy that all elections take place on the same day," Issacharoff said. "A new election for Palm Beach is extraordinarily problematic," he said, because both parties would try to influence the relative handful of voters who would decide the presidency.

Issacharoff said he anticipates the possibility that the election will be decided in the House of Representatives.

If Florida cannot certify a slate of electors by December 18, they may not be allowed to cast their votes for president, he said. If so, neither candidate would have the necessary 270 votes needed for victory in the Electoral College.

Under the Constitution, the issue would then go to the House. There, each state delegation would have one vote.

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