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Democrats now support counting military votes

Leading Democrats, including vice presidential candidate Joseph
Lieberman, are calling on Florida canvassing officials who have tossed a
number of military absentee ballots out because they did not have
postmarks to reconsider their decision and count them after all.

Lieberman, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, said Republicans had
managed a public relations victory over Democrats in general because of
the decision by some county election officials to disqualify over 1,400
military absentee ballots.

The ballots had made it to the state on time to be counted but lacked
postmarks. According to published reports, Florida election law —
contrary to federal law — prohibits consideration of absentee ballots
that arrive without a postmark.

“My own point of view, if I was there, I would give the benefit of
the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel, generally,”
Lieberman said.

Of the local canvassing boards, he continued, “if they have the
capacity, I’d urge them to go back and take another look [at accepting
the ballots], because again, Al Gore and I don’t want to ever be part of
anything that would put an extra burden on the military personnel

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., joined Lieberman yesterday to urge county
election officials to reconsider their decision.

“I believe that we ought to bend over backwards to have everybody’s
vote, and particularly those men and women who are serving us in uniform
in high-risk areas,” Graham told NBC’s “Today Show” co-host Katie

“The federal law provides that a postmark is not required for
absentee ballots for overseas-stationed military personnel,” Graham
said. “That ought to be the governing rule, and every possible vote that
can be counted ought to be counted.”

The canvassing boards of all 67 Florida counties threw out a total of
39 percent of the absentee ballots received, or about 1,400.

The absentee ballot count was completed Saturday. Of the votes that
county election officials said qualified under Florida law, Texas Gov.
George W. Bush picked up 1,380 and Gore picked up 750, widening Bush’s
lead to 930 out of a total of 6 million votes cast.

Of the ballots disqualified, Graham said, “I think they should be
re-evaluated against the federal standard that does not require a
postmark date on or before Election Day, and if they meet the standards
otherwise, the priority and the presumption should be to let every vote

Meanwhile, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a supporter of
Vice President Al Gore, advised counties that they “should count”
overseas ballots, even if they bear no postmarks.

“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 yesterday in a letter to the state’s 67 counties,
according to an Associated Press report.

County election officials of both parties have said such
non-postmarked military ballots have been discarded in similarly large
numbers in past elections, but that more attention has been given them
this year because of the closeness of the presidential race.

Nevertheless, GOP lawmakers have said that military personnel who
followed the rules and requested, then received, ballots in time did not
have control over the military postal clerks who are then trusted to
postmark the ballots — and all military mail — before it leaves a
ship, an Air Force base or an Army post.

But because some ballots weren’t postmarked properly, Republicans
have said county election officials should not hold those military
members responsible, especially after they complied with standard
overseas military voting procedures in every other way.

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