A federal judge has agreed to hear arguments today in a case involving
hundreds of overseas military ballots that Republicans say Florida
elections boards improperly threw out.
U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier will hear the case in Pensacola, as
Republicans try to convince the court that more than 250 ballots tossed
out by seven county elections boards should be counted.
Most of the ballots, analysts say, should help boost Texas Gov. George
W. Bush’s slim 537-vote lead because military personnel historically
have demonstrated a tendency to choose Republican candidates.
But regardless of their choice, Republican lawyer John Stargel of
Lakeland, Fla., said all service members should have their voices heard
— and their votes counted — when it comes to participating in the
process to select the next commander-in-chief.
“If every vote should count, then all military votes should count,” he
told reporters yesterday.
Republicans say the votes were improperly rejected by the seven counties
for lack of a postmark. Though absentee ballots were supposed to be
postmarked or dated by Nov. 7 and received in the state by Nov. 17, many
were not because they were sent free through the mail.
Also, several current and former U.S. military postal officers have told
WorldNetDaily that not all duty stations and naval ships at sea have
postmark machines for outgoing mail.
Finally, Republicans and military advocates have argued that overseas
ballots — per Florida state law — do not necessarily require a postmark
in order to be counted as valid.
Democrats have argued that the ballots are required to be postmarked,
but Florida law, under statute 1S, 2.01 (7), says: “With respect to the
presidential preference primary and the general election, any absentee
ballot cast for a federal office by an overseas elector which is
postmarked or signed and dated no later than the date of the Federal
election shall be counted if received no later than 10 days from the
date of the Federal election as long as such absentee ballot is
Stargel noted in court papers that the undated absentee ballots should
be counted because balloting envelopes that are supposed to be signed by
members did not include a space to place a date.
Republicans are suing Okaloosa, Walton, Hillsborough, Polk, Orange,
Pasco and Collier counties. Other counties have counted the ballots;
among those, Bush led Democrat Al Gore by a 2-1 margin.
Early on, Democrats suffered somewhat of a public-relations nightmare
after a Democratic lawyer sent all 67 Florida county canvassing boards a
memo outlining ways to disqualify military absentee ballots.
Critics of the memo pointed out that Democrats were essentially robbing
military personnel — many of them away from their families, serving
overseas in undesirable places and in unpopular missions — of the
opportunity to help select their next commander-in-chief.
Also, Republicans noted that Democrats did not provide the same set of
rules for Americans living abroad in Israel, perhaps because those
voters might be more inclined to choose Gore and his Jewish running
mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
After the initial public-relations fallout, some top Democrats —
including Lieberman, Florida Sen. Bob Graham and the state’s Attorney
General Bob Butterworth — reversed themselves and openly called for Florida counties to count military ballots.
“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 on NBC’s “Meet The Press” Nov. 19.
“If [local canvassing boards] 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 abroad,” the Democratic vice presidential candidate added.
“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 Couric.
“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.”
However, as of yesterday some Democrats were still opposed to counting military ballots.
“I don’t think any special consideration should be given to them just because they are in the military,” said Democratic state committeewoman Juanita Geathers, according to reports.
Republicans countered that they were not asking for special privileges for military personnel, only that state and federal law be followed regarding their votes.
Many military personnel were concerned even before the Nov. 7 election that they wouldn’t get to vote.
WorldNetDaily reported prior to the election that overseas military personnel who had requested absentee ballots in plenty of time were never provided them and, hence, were never afforded the opportunity to vote.
Also, many others who did get ballots
either never had them picked up
or delivered by military mail handlers.