COUPWATCH: Independent Lawsuits Mount, Outflanking Gore’s Timid Strategy

by Paul H. Rosenberg Saturday, Dec. 02, 2000 at 11:33 AM

Three lawsuits brought by Florida voters significantly outflank the timid strategy Gore has adopted in a hostile, simple-minded media environment. They give a much better idea of how down and dirty Florida's election actually was.

errorCOUPWATCH: Independent Lawsuits Mount, Outflanking Gores Timid Strategy

A new lawsuit is being is being brought by six South Florida voters against the Florida Canvassing Commission, the canvassing boards of 10 counties and Governor Jeb Bush for accepting more than 1,500 overseas absentee ballots after 7 PM on Election Day, Nov. 7. A 1984 Florida administrative rule allows a 10 day extension, but the lawsuit contends that the rule violates the Florida Constitution.

The rule is certainly an anomaly, since it provides for counting votes 4 days after the election is normally certified. This contradiction was one of several conflicts in the law that the Florida Supreme Court had to untangle in its decision thats currently being considered by the US Supreme Court. If its found to be unconstutional, then the ballots tossed out would sharply cut into Bushs narrow lead, perhaps erasing it entirely. Althought a total of about 2,300 ballots were received after election day, the suit focuses on 10 counties where more than 1,500 of them were concentrated.

Another lawsuit in Seminole County seeks to throw out all of the approximately 15,000 absentee ballots cast there because of illegal activities by Republican operatives who filled in missing voter identifaction numbers on request forms for the absentee ballots. The two operatives spent more than a week working inside the supervisors office adding the information which by law can only be added by the voter.

This special, illegal privelege was not extended to Democrats, and directly contradicts previous actions by the Republican supervisor of elections in Seminole County, Sandra Goard. Last March, Dean Ray of Sanford submitted nearly 900 petition signatures to Goard to secure a place on the ballot for county commissioner. Goard rejected about 30 percent of ballots according to Ray, but refused to return the rejected ones so that Ray could take them back to the petition signers to fill in the missing information. According to Ray, Sshe stated to me that once they were turned in they became part of the public record, and she wouldn't give them back."

What both these lawsuits have in common--aside from potentially tipping the election to Gore--is Gores absence from the field. In both cases, the arguments go against the simplistic public posturing, even though they do deal with potentially serious violations of the law. The tremendous influence of media imagery trumping reality has kept Gore far away from these battles that could ultimate land him in the White House.

The case has been assigned to Judge Nikki Ann Clark, the first black and the first woman to serve on Florida's Second Judicial Circuit with her appointment in 1993. Naturally, the Republicans tried--unsuccessfully--to get her bumped from the case. Their reasoning? On Nov. 17, Governor Jeb Bush, rejected her bid to join the appellate court. Therefore, the Republicans claimed, Clark could not ensure the Republicans a fair trial. Apparently, nepotism = impartiality, its only those who arent related who let family ties cloud their thinking. Or maybe its only blacks, or women (but not wealthy Republican women like Katherine Harris), whose judgement gets clouded by other peoples family ties.

But these two cases are only the tip of the iceberg. An African-Ameican Republican voter, Cynthia McCauley, filed suit in Bay County questioning the legality of letters from Governor Jeb Bush encouraging people "vote from the comfort of home." The letter, which had the Florida state seal superimpoosed over it, also encouraged voters to vote for Republican candidates. Not only is comfort not a legally permissible reason for voting absentee in Florida, the affadavit that voters must sign to get an absentee ballot states that voters are unable to go to the polls. Thus, it appears that Bush may have been suborning perjury, although thats a criminal matter beyond the scope of the civil suit.

McCauley charges that the Republican Party of Florida used "unlawful and heavy-handed actions" to promote voting via an "unlawful use" of absentee ballots "in a manner that has unfairly favored the Republicans and hurt Democrats in the election and is also likely to adversely affect the voting rights of many African Americans, who have long been denied equal opportunity to vote in the South," according to McCauly. Nearly a quarter of all the votes Goerge W. Bush received in Bay County were absentee votes.

Another Bay County complaint, not yet filed in court after being turned down by the county canvassing boards, alleges that absentee ballots were cast by people living outside the County. It was brought by Bay County resident Richard Hall, who also charged that people registered and voted in precincts of"convenience" rather than precincts where they live. This is not only illegal, it inverts the situation faced by many African-Americans throughout Florida, who were improperly excluded from precincts lists, were not allowed to vote in the precincts where they lived, and were sent on wild goose chases to other precincts, rather than being allowed to vote with provisional ballots as the law provides.

Whatever the eventual outcome of this continuing struggle for the Presidency, its clear that individual voters, fighting for their right to vote and for the rule of law in the running of elections, remain the true guardians and protectors of democracy.