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'Condo commandos' caused ballot snafu
Posted By Diana Lynne On 11/21/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
As the Palm Beach County canvassing board muddles through an arduous
countywide hand count of ballots, WorldNetDaily has learned that the
county’s “condo commandos” — leaders at condominium complexes for those 55
and older — and other Gore operatives created the perceived need for a
recount by giving the wrong instructions to loyal voters about how to cast
their ballots in the Nov. 7 election.
The bad information, in turn, created confusion that ultimately contributed
to more than 19,000 ballots being thrown out.
The “condo commandos” traditionally play starring roles in elections in Palm
Beach County, where a quarter of the million-plus population is 65 years and
older, but their star appears to be fading fast on the Gold Coast.
“Condo commandos take credit for delivering votes after elections. I don’t
think you’ll find them doing that now,” stated Democrat Jody Gleason, a Palm
Beach County school board member.
Retirees, particularly in the southern part of the county, historically
represent a massive voting bloc for Democratic candidates. One retirement
community in West Palm Beach, Century Village, has 7,000 residents
year-round and as many as 14,000 during the winter months. The heavily
Jewish community was a magnet for Gore cheerleaders on the stump, including
Jesse Jackson and vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman. Century
Village’s clout makes the president of the Century Village Democratic Club,
Sam Oser, a powerful man in the eyes of Democratic candidates running for
“I don’t even know if I voted correctly,” said the 75-year-old condo
commando, “You’re dealing with older folks who come in on crutches and in
wheelchairs. They’re used to voting a certain way all these years and it was
Century Village residents are used to relying on “palm cards” to help them
vote. As the name suggests, a “palm card” is a printout that’s small enough
to fit into the palm of one’s hand, and they are distributed en masse by
condo commandos prior to the election.
“This is a card that has the numbers of candidates we recommend residents
vote for,” said Oser, who describes it as an aid for elderly voters who have
poor eyesight or are vulnerable to confusion in the voting booth. Unless
there’s a polling station set up within the retirement community, as is the
case at Oser’s Century Village, condo commandos arrange to bus residents to
the polls. It is common for residents who take the journey to the polling
place sponsored by the retirement community to arm themselves with the palm
card issued by that community.
“The retirement communities are critical. Any candidate goes into their
midst with fear and trembling. We know what a powerful voting bloc they
represent,” reflected former school board member Gail Bjork, who
successfully ran three countywide campaigns. “If your name isn’t on that
[palm] card, you’re in trouble.”
But WorldNetDaily has learned that Oser and many other Gore supporters
issued marching orders to voters in error. As reported by the Palm Beach
Post, the Democratic Club of Greater Boynton Beach got the candidates’
numbers mixed up in their voting recommendation published in its November
newsletter to members. A few days prior to the election, according to the
Post, the club issued postcards headlined “Oops!” which explained that
members had been incorrectly instructed to “punch #3 for Al Gore” but that
number 3 would actually be a vote for Republican George Bush. The postcard
further instructed members they should “punch #5 for Al Gore.”
Asked whether he got the candidates’ numbers right on Century Village palm
cards, Oser replied, “I don’t recall whether there were numbers.”
However, a worker at Century Village told WorldNetDaily the “palm cards”
that were distributed prior to the election were wrong. When the error was
discovered, new palm cards were printed and handed out outside of the polls
on Election Day.
According to this worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, “Whoever took the
palm card from us outside the polls got the right information. Those that
didn’t wouldn’t have.”
This is not the first election in Palm Beach County to have been affected by
palm-card errors. In 1986, Bill Graham surprised political analysts by
winning the District 4 school board seat over the favored Democratic
candidate, Lou Martinez. According to the Palm Beach Post, the upset was
partly attributed to a printing error on 5,000 palm cards put out by the
South County Political Cooperative. While the cooperative endorsed Martinez,
they encouraged voters to punch the number associated with Graham.
The error with the palm cards is linked to the so-called
ballot” adopted this year by Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat, which listed the candidates’ names on both the right and left-hand pages with arrows pointing to punch holes in the center of the ballot. The sample ballot mailed out prior to the election listed Al Gore second on the left-hand page but did not contain holes that could have been counted. Thus, it only would have been possible to assume that the second punch hole would correspond to Al Gore.
Because of the “butterfly” design, however, the second hole on the ballot actually corresponded to Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. Staff at the Gore campaign argue the ballot caused thousands of confused voters to be “disenfranchised,” since they may have either selected the wrong candidate or, realizing they made a mistake, chosen two different candidates, thereby invalidating their ballots. More than 19,000 voters punched more than one hole on their ballots, spoiling 4.4 percent of the total cast in the county. Thousands of Gore supporters have signed sworn statements saying they may have mistakenly punched the ballot for Buchanan. Even independent analysts think
Buchanan received about 2,400 more votes than he should have.
Several voters filed suit seeking a revote on the basis that the “confusing” ballot caused them to vote incorrectly. Monday, Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga ruled he did not have the authority to order a revote and that such a revote would be unconstitutional because it gives one candidate an unfair advantage over another.
“Historically, they [senior citizens] go by the numbers and don’t look at the ballot,” explained Gleason, suggesting that if retirees are instructed to “punch number 2,” they troop into the voting booth and punch number 2 without even reading the ballot.
According to a Republican businesswoman in the Democratic stronghold of Boca Raton, this is precisely what took place on Nov. 7. The businesswoman, who asked to remain anonymous, told WorldNetDaily that Gore operatives made the rounds of all the retirement communities instructing residents to “punch the second hole.”
“A 75-year-old Jewish friend of ours said he was mad his vote went to Buchanan and complained they told him to punch the wrong hole,” the source told WorldNetDaily. “And another Jewish friend said she couldn’t believe they had told all the seniors to punch the wrong hole when they went to vote at Century Village.”
Testimony from seniors also indicates that Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., of West Palm Beach visited retirement communities and instructed residents to “punch number 2″ which amounted to a vote for Buchanan.
Wexler’s press secretary, Josh Rogin, initially called this untrue, but added, “I don’t believe he was saying that. Even if he was, it doesn’t address the issue that the ballot was illegal.” Rogin went on to explain that under Florida law, Gore’s name should have appeared second instead of Buchanan’s. Technically, Gore’s name did appear second on the left-hand side of the ballot. His name, however, did not correspond to the second punch hole.
As soon as calls started pouring into the office of Wexler and others about the “confusing ballot,” after the polls opened on Election Day, the Gore camp went into crisis management mode.
The Associated Press reports that the Democratic National Committee hired a telemarketing firm to call voters on Election Day to notify them of the “confusing ballot” and urged them to raise questions about it and complain to local elections officials.
Wexler has been among the most vocal proponents of the recount in Palm Beach County, declaring with confidence that his constituents did not intend to vote for Buchanan. Also speaking out was Lieberman, who received a rousing reception from Century Village residents during his October visit and was confident of earning the Jewish vote. But the testimony of senior citizens that it was the Gore operatives who misled them and not the “butterfly ballot” calls into question the validity of the ongoing recount in Palm Beach County, after the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday that hand-count results should be included in Florida’s final vote tally.
As for the mood at Century Village, residents feel they were gypped.
“These folks were in World War II. Their sons and fathers went to World War II,” stressed Oser. “Their eyesight isn’t the best, and they don’t deserve to be made fun of by the whole country about how they voted. And for many, this will be their last vote.”
“Indeed, no right is more precious in a free country than that of having a choice in the election of those who make the laws under which we live,” stated Labarga in yesterday’s ruling.
Whatever the outcome of this presidential election, the lesson learned in Palm Beach County is that if you aim to sway seniors to vote for a particular candidate, you better give them accurate instructions or the effort just may backfire.
Asked whether she thought this election would sound a death knell for the ‘palm card,’ Gleason replied, “No, it’ll be around.”
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