Official tells counties to count more overseas ballots

By BRENT KALLESTAD

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth sent a letter today to Florida counties, telling election officials they “should count” overseas ballots that bear no postmark.

The capitulation by Butterworth, an ally of Democrat Al Gore, could add votes for Republican George W. Bush, who stretched his lead over the vice president in the state to 930 votes after he won a greater percentage of overseas ballots in a count last Friday.

“No man or woman in military service to this nation should have his or her vote rejected solely due to the absence of a postmark,” Butterworth said in the letter to the state’s 67 county elections supervisors and other canvassing board members.

Democrats were criticized over the weekend for aggressively and successfully challenging ballots that had no Nov. 7 postmark as required from military outposts.

Butterworth directed county election officials to count overseas ballots if there is a postmark no later than the Election Day or if the ballot is signed and dated no later than the election date.

“Canvassing boards should count overseas ballots which are from qualified military electors and which bear no postmark if the ballot is signed and dated no later than the date of the election,” he wrote.

Bush gained 1,380 votes among overseas absentee ballots compared to 750 for Gore, but the Republican nonetheless complained because some 1,000 overseas ballots were thrown out for lack of a postmark and other problems.

Butterworth’s letter said his office ‘urges supervisors and canvassing boards to seek a clarifying opinion from the Secretary of State if they have any questions on this matter after review of the authorities cited in this letter.”

Gore campaign spokeswoman Jenny Backus said she had just seen Butterworth’s letter and wouldn’t immediately comment. The fourth-term Democratic attorney general served as Gore’s state chairman in Florida.

The Bush campaign didn’t immediately return a telephone call.

The Bush campaign and former U.S. military leaders had decried the rejection overseas military ballots in Florida because they lacked postmarks, charging a coordinated Democratic effort to get likely Bush votes thrown out in the tight race.

Last week, a Tallahassee attorney hired by the Democratic Party sent a five-page letter to other attorneys across the state with tips on challenging the validity of the overseas ballots, most coming from

Earlier this week, Mark Herron, a Tallahassee lawyer helping shepherd Democratic presidential election lawsuits through the local courts, sent a five-page letter to Democratic attorneys throughout Florida giving them tips on how to lodge protests against overseas ballots.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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