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Context of 'November 17, 2000: Florida Democrats Challenge Acceptance of Some Absentee Ballots in Seminole County'

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Lawyers for the Gore presidential campaign and local Democrats say they intend to sue the Seminole County elections supervisor. In this county, Republican Party workers were permitted to correct errors on thousands of applications for absentee ballots for Republicans, in what Democrats call illegal ballot tampering. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000] Subsequent investigations show that Seminole elections officials and Republican Party workers corrected data on absentee ballots that showed votes for Republican George W. Bush, while throwing away flawed absentee ballots that showed votes for Democrat Al Gore. Republican Party operatives worked unsupervised in Seminole County offices for 10 days preceding the November 7 vote; those offices house the county’s computer database of voters. It is not known if the operatives attempted to access that database. County elections supervisor Sandra Goard later says in a sworn statement that she does not know the identity of one of the two Republican operatives given access to the absentee ballots and the computer rooms. After the absentee ballots were counted into the county’s tallies, Seminole County showed a 5,000-vote lead for Bush over Gore. [Consortium News, 11/27/2000]

Entity Tags: County of Seminole (Florida), Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Sandra Goard, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

A Florida absentee ballot.A Florida absentee ballot. [Source: SaintPetersBlog (.com)]The Bush and Gore campaigns begin a weeks-long wrangle over the issue of Florida’s absentee ballots. The deadline for counting absentee ballots received from citizens overseas is November 17 (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000). Rumors of large numbers of military absentee ballots, presumably favoring Bush in number, and a large number of ballots from American Jews in Israel, presumably favoring Gore, have swirled for days among the media and in both campaigns. Gore campaign lawyer Mark Herron compiles a long memo on the rules governing absentee ballots to Democratic lawyers at each of the 67 county canvassing boards; a copy of the memo is obtained by a Republican legal team, and soon Bush spokespersons are quoting from it to accuse the Gore campaign of attempting to disenfranchise Americans in uniform. The Gore campaign sends vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (D-CT) onto the Sunday morning television talk shows to shore up its position, and Lieberman protests that the campaign would never do anything to disenfranchise soldiers. Lieberman says that in his opinion, the most permissive standards should be applied to the absentee ballots. Herron and other Gore lawyers are dismayed by Lieberman’s position, as these standards would admit a larger influx of absentee ballots, the majority of which they believe will go to Bush. Okaloosa County, a Panhandle county with six military bases, becomes a center of the controversy. Lawyers from both campaigns and both parties attempt to wrangle the issue among themselves and the Okaloosa elections board, often becoming pushy and confrontational. Bush lawyers insist that the rules should be, in essence, jettisoned and all absentee ballots admitted regardless of postmarks, valid numbers and addresses, etc.; Okaloosa elections supervisor Pat Hollarn, a centrist Republican, refuses. “I told them not only no but hell no,” she later recalls. A 2004 Vanity Fair article will note, “At the same time, in the more Democratic counties, Bush lawyers were arguing just as passionately that rules should be strictly adhered to and any questionable ballots put aside.” After the wrangling has settled and the ballots are counted (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000), Bush wins a net gain of 123 votes. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: County of Okaloosa (Florida), Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Pat Hollarn, Mark Herron, Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Florida Democrats sue the Seminole County Canvassing Board in state court for including absentee ballots in the vote totals that they say did not satisfy the provisions of 101.62 of the Florida Election Code (see November 15-17, 2000). These provisions require that a citizen requesting an absentee ballot provide the elector’s registration number on their application. [Leip, 2008] The Seminole County elections supervisor allowed Republican Party workers to correct thousands of Republican ballots to allow them to be counted (see November 12, 2000).

Entity Tags: County of Seminole (Florida), Al Gore presidential campaign 2000

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Refusing to accept the certification of George W. Bush as the winner of the Florida presidential election (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000), Vice President Al Gore’s campaign files an election contest action challenging the election results in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Nassau Counties. Gore campaign officials believe Gore was denied a net gain of over 1,100 uncounted votes in Palm Beach and 750 in Miami-Dade (see November 7, 2000). In Nassau, Gore officials believe Bush was wrongly credited with 51 votes. “The vote totals reported in the election canvassing commission’s certification of November 26, 2000, are wrong,” Gore lawyers allege in court filings. It is the first formal contest challenge in the history of US presidential elections. The case is assigned by random computer selection to Judge N. Saunders Sauls. Gore lawyers also challenge vote totals in three Florida counties, and ask a state judge to order a manual recount of some 13,000 ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties that showed no votes for president on machine runs (so-called “undervotes”). Gore lawyers also file an emergency motion to accelerate the contest proceedings, a motion that Bush lawyers will challenge the next day. Bush campaign lawyers file an appeals court motion seeking to delay oral arguments in a pending federal case challenging Florida’s hand recounts. A Seminole County lawsuit seeking to throw out some 4,700 absentee ballots for technical reasons (see November 12, 2000, November 15-17, 2000, and November 17, 2000) is moved to a state court in Leon County, which is also hearing the Gore campaign’s certification challenges. And a lawsuit challenging the validity of Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” (see 10:46 a.m. November 20 - November 22, 2000) goes to the Florida Supreme Court, which will reject the suit on December 1. [Guardian, 11/28/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: County of Seminole (Florida), County of Leon (Florida), Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Palm Beach (Florida), George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, N. Saunders Sauls, George W. Bush, County of Nassau (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Florida Democratic voters file a lawsuit to throw out 9,773 absentee-ballot votes in Martin County; two-thirds of them are votes for George W. Bush. Democrats charge that, as in Seminole County (see November 12, 2000, November 15-17, 2000, and November 17, 2000), Republican officials illegally added voter ID numbers to Republican applications for absentee ballots, rendering the once-invalid ballots able to be counted. Judge Terry Lewis sets a trial date of December 6. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: County of Martin (Florida), Terry Lewis, George W. Bush, County of Seminole (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Two lawsuits filed by Florida Democrats challenging the validity of some Florida absentee ballots are heard in Tallahassee. Judge Nikki Clark hears the Seminole County absentee ballot case (see November 12, 2000, November 15-17, 2000, November 17, 2000, and November 27, 2000) and Judge Terry Lewis presides over a similar challenge filed against Martin County ballots. (The Gore campaign has declined to join either lawsuit, though Vice President Al Gore has said it “doesn’t seem fair to me” that Republicans but not Democratic operatives in those counties were allowed to add and correct voter ID numbers on absentee ballot applications. The Bush campaign has joined the opposing side of both lawsuits.) Both Clark and Lewis reject the lawsuits. The Florida Supreme Court will uphold their rulings. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008] Democratic leaders are beginning to edge away from continued support for Gore’s attempts to secure the election. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says, “This is coming to an end.” A George W. Bush presidency, he says, “looks more and more” likely. [Guardian, 12/8/2000]

Entity Tags: Nikki Clark, County of Martin (Florida), Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Seminole (Florida), George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Terry Lewis, Florida Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

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