Nov. 8, 2000
BALLOT CONFUSION SPARKS IRE
By STEVE FRIESS
Staff Writers Brad Hahn, Stella Chavez, Patty
Pensa, Kathy Bushouse and Linda Kleindeinst contributed to this
Hundreds of irate Palm Beach County voters,
fearing they or their friends voted for Pat Buchanan instead
of Al Gore, besieged the county Election Department on Tuesday
with complaints about ballot confusion that could have swayed
In a contest that saw a turnout expected to
be about 70 percent with particularly high participation in
precincts that are overwhelmingly elderly or black, polls were
so busy that voters were still in line a half-hour after the
7 p.m. closing time.
Buchanan received more than 10 votes in more
than 40 precincts by press time, all of which were Democratic
strongholds that otherwise went overwhelmingly for Gore. In
precinct 162G, the Lakes of Delray area where Gore received
one of his highest vote totals in all of Palm Beach County,
a county high of 47 voters picked Buchanan, too.
Outraged Democratic leaders sputtered about
possible lawsuits depending on the statewide and national outcome,
noting that the Gore-Buchanan uncertainty was just the biggest
headache in a line of glitches. There was also the issue of
Senate candidates Bill Nelson and Bill McCollum and Congressional
candidates Robert Wexler and Morris Kent Thompson being omitted
from some ballots.
In the case of the presidential race, Gore's
name was the second one listed on the left side of the ballot
with an arrow pointing to the third hole in the column. Legions
of voters said they may have mistakenly punched the second hole
in the column, which actually was designated for Buchanan, the
Reform Party hopeful. Buchanan's name was on the opposite side
of the page, with an arrow pointing to the second hole.
"People came out of there, and a lot of
us don't know if we voted correctly," said Eleanor Merblum,
82, who voted at precinct 162E, a fire station on Hagen Ranch
Road in West Delray. "If Gore doesn't win this district,
you know something's wrong."
Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore, a Democrat,
insisted any confusion was unintentional and defended the layout
of the cluttered ballots as necessary to get all the presidential
candidates on facing pages while making the type large enough
for voters to read.
"I was trying to make the print bigger
so elderly people in Palm Beach County can read it," said
LePore, who said she doesn't think the ballot is confusing.
"If I'd made it small, they would've said we made the print
There were some other problems on Election Day,
with a blank page where Senate candidates, including Bill Nelson
and Bill McCollum, were supposed to be. Ballots on four machines
in Lake Park did not have the page, LePore said. She said the
machines were not used after the problem was found around 7:30
The Gore-Buchanan confusion may prompt an inquiry
by the Florida Attorney General's office.
"It's been presented to us to take a look
at," said Paul Hancock, deputy attorney general in charge
of the civil rights division. "The ballot really is confusing."
But state elections officials said they saw
no problem with it.
"There's nothing wrong with the ballots
in Palm Beach County," said Clay Roberts, director of the
state division of elections. "The ballot is laid out according
to state law and the voting system they have. It's absurd to
think that Theresa LePore is in some conspiracy to take votes
away from Al Gore and given them to Pat Buchanan. That's absurd."
Panicked voters started calling Democratic Party
offices shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m., saying they
worried their intended votes for Gore went to Buchanan. Calls
continued throughout the day, said Cathy Dubin, special assistant
to the county's Democratic Party chairwoman.
By 11 a.m., the party dispersed fliers to its
260 poll watchers, warning voters to be careful when voting
"They're getting ill, they don't know whether
they voted right," said Dubin, adding calls were coming
in from all over the county. "Every couple seconds someone
is calling one of the phone banks, crying and saying, `I don't
know what to do.' It's just a mess."
Elected leaders also were inundated with calls
from griping voters. Irving Slosberg, who was formally elected
state representative for District 89 in Boca Raton on Tuesday,
found a problem at a Delray Beach precinct, where two of 10
voting machines were shut off because they listed the wrong
candidates for U.S. House. He alerted incumbent Rep. Robert
Wexler, D-Boca Raton, who should have been listed with GOP challenger
Morris Kent Thompson.
Slosberg and Wexler went to precinct 168A on
South Oriole Boulevard around 11:30 a.m. and found the problem
had been addressed. But Wexler said he also received calls from
two other south county precincts about similar problems.
"When they realized it, they shut them
down," Wexler said. "But that occurred after some
people had voted."
More important to Wexler on Tuesday were the
dozens of frenzied constituents who called his office to report
their confusion when trying to vote for the Gore-Lieberman ticket.
"If me and Pat Buchanan are winning precincts
in my district, there is something wrong," Wexler said.
At Temple Emeth, a heavily Democratic and elderly
precinct in West Delray, more than 30 ballots were voided by
3 p.m., way more than the one or two voided in a typical election,
clerk Ann Swift said.
In West Boynton, Gore workers greeted voters
outside to warn them about the ballot.
"Some people are crying and crying over
it," Joyce Isbitts said. "This is such a crime. It's
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