BOCA RATON, Fla. – Some supporters of Vice President Al Gore flooded the Palm Beach County elections office with calls, fearing they had accidentally cast their votes for Reform Party Candidate Pat Buchanan.
Buchanan got 3,407 votes for president in the heavily Democratic county Tuesday, more than he received in any other Florida county, according to unofficial returns from all precincts. With 100 percent of precincts reporting statewide, Gore was behind Texas Gov. George W. Bush by fewer than 1,800 votes, and Florida held the key to the outcome of the national race.
Two larger counties south of Palm Beach both had much lower Buchanan results – 789 in Broward County and 561 in Miami-Dade County. In Duval County, a much more conservative county in northeast Florida, only 650 Buchanan votes were cast.
The confusion apparently arose from the way Palm Beach County’s punch-card style ballot was laid out for the presidential race. Candidates are listed on both sides of the vertical row of holes where the voters punch their choices.
The top hole was for Bush, listed at top left; the second hole was for Buchanan, listed at top right, and the third hole was for 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.
“When ballots are placed in the slide for voting, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman are the second names on the ballot, but the third hole to punch,” said Florida Democratic Party Communications Director Bill Buck in a statement.
Buck added that anyone believing his or her vote had been cast incorrectly should contact Democratic Party lawyers.
“It was so hard to tell who and what you were voting for. I couldn’t figure it out, and I have a doctorate,” voter Eileen Klasfeld said.
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 to be just below the office of vice president. It seemed like I had to push one for vice president, too. Then I saw I had accidentally voted twice,” Smith said.
But Clay Roberts, director of the Florida Department of Elections, said the problem in Palm Beach County was exaggerated.
“I don’t think they are confused. I think they left the polling place and became confused. The ballot is very straightforward. You follow the arrow, you punch the location. Then you have voted for who you intend to elect,” said Roberts, a Republican appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, George W.’s brother.
Nonetheless, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore said her office received calls about the problem all day.
“It has mostly been the Democratic Party calling to complain,” LePore said.
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