By KARIN MEADOWS
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Angry supporters of Democratic Vice President Al Gore protested outside of an elections office in Palm Beach County, where more than 19,000 ballots have been disqualified and two lawsuits have been filed seeking a new vote.
The Rev. Jessie Jackson arrived at a rally outside the Palm Beach County government center, where people held signs saying, “Redo the vote” and “Gore got more.”
Officials in the heavily Democratic county said 19,120 ballots in the presidential race were thrown out before they were counted because more than one candidate was picked. Only 3,783 voters made that mistake on the U.S. Senate portion of the ballot.
In addition to the nullified ballots, many voters were concerned that they may have voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Gore because of confusion that arose from the way the county’s punch-card style ballot was laid out.
Claretha Roache, 73, was wearing a sticker upside down that said “Vote! I did” and waving two small American flags today.
“I didn’t vote wrong,” she said. “But I knew they were going to have trouble.”
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.
Gore campaign manager William Daley, appearing Thursday on CBS’s “The Early Show,” called the problem “a very serious situation.”
“I assume the courts will take a serious look at what may be an injustice unparalleled in our history,” Daley said.
Two lawsuits saying that the law was violated are seeking a judge to order a new vote. The first one was filed Wednesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court by three residents.
“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 the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit against the canvassing board and election officials said the ballots were “deceptive, misleading and confusing.”
Palm Beach voter Kenneth Horowitz, owner of the Miami Fusion soccer team, filed another lawsuit along with two others today, saying poll workers told voters they had only five minutes to cast their ballots, and anyone who took longer would have their ballot tossed out.
A third lawsuit was filed in federal court, and an emergency hearing was set for today afternoon.
Rabbi Richard Yellin said that when it dawned on several of his parishioners that they might have voted incorrectly, “people started crying.” Buchanan’s remarks about World War II and the Middle East have been criticized by many Jews as anti-Semitic.
Clay Roberts, director of the Florida Division 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, who was appointed by Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, an independently elected member of the Florida Cabinet.
“The ballot is very straightforward,” he said. “You follow the arrow, you punch the location.”
But Daley said the ballot was problematic. “There seems to be no question that this lineup on that ballot in that county … does violate Florida law,” he said.
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, dispatched by Bush to oversee the GOP monitoring team in Florida, angrily told NBC’s “Today” show 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. He noted that the ballot had been posted in newspapers and public places, as required by law, and said no one complained at the time. He added the county’s election supervisor is a Democrat.
The supervisor, Theresa LePore, 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.
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