Florida Dispatch:


November 8: Gleeful Goreites and Bummed Bushies

November 10: Sunbathing and Complaining

November 13: Fifteen Minutes of Di-dom

November 14: Guarding the Ballots

November 16: The Press Horde Has My Number

November 17: And Visions of eBay Danced in Their Heads

November 21: Dimples Outvoted

November 26: G.O.P. Stalling Tactics

December 3: Have Bribe. Will Travel.

December 13: The End of the End




Wednesday, November 8: Gleeful Goreites and Bummed Bushies


Tuesday was a harrowing night. We were at the Supervisor of Elections' Office until about 4:30 a.m. watching the election returns. I lugged myself back at 10:00 a.m. this morning to serve as the Palm Beach County Democratic Party's observer for the state-mandated recount. It was a
chaotic scene. Reporters and cameramen from all of the major news outlets, local political people and curious citizens were all milling about in the lobby. The recount was supposed to begin at 1:30 p.m.

We waited. At 2:30 p.m., the three-member Canvassing Board came to the table to announce that the recount would begin at 4:00 p.m.

The counting room itself is very small. Five tabulating machines sit on a counter along one wall. Filing cabinets containing the ballots and a couple of worktables occupy the rest of the space. We managed to squeeze in 12 folding metal chairs, and the observers squashed in. Exterior windows look out on a plaza behind the building. A few cameramen discovered that they could see into the room and set up their tripods right outside.

The count ended at 11:30 p.m. When the tabulating machines indicated the final totals for the County, Gore's net gain was 643 votes. The Bush boys looked stunned and began whispering in a corner. For a few minutes, no one knew where the increase had come
from. Apparently, one precinct missed some votes on election night. This precinct alone gave Gore a net gain of about 360 votes. Word from other counties is that Gore closed the 1,700 deficit by about 800 votes. There was some whooping and high fiving from our side when everyone heard the news.

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Friday, November 10: Sunbathing and Complaining


I spent much of the day at the Delray Beach headquarters of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party. For most of the year, this office is very quiet. The last few weeks, it's been a beehive of activity. Yet, the activity the last three days is astounding. Voters have been showing up in droves to sign written statements detailing the problems they had with the ballot. From Wednesday through Friday, over 7,000 statements were signed. To handle the crowds, we've set up several tables along the sidewalk outside, at which volunteers and notaries provide paper and pens, and then stamp their official seal. Yes, on the sidewalk -- remember, it's still in the 80s here and it's now the dry season.


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Monday, November 13: Fifteen Minutes of Di-dom


Our legal team arrived at the Palm Beach County administrative building at 8:30 a.m. to begin the hand recount of four precincts and the machine recount for the entire county. If a party requests a hand recount, Florida law requires that the county canvassing board manually
count three or more precincts containing at least 1 percent of the vote. The person(s) requesting the recount get to select the precincts. The State Party in Tallahassee sent down a list of 10 precincts to choose from, but we knew the precincts my friend and I chose last night would work better. We know Palm precincts, so we used our list.

Hundreds of television and print media reporters were waiting outside the building and in the lobby. It was like one of those scenes when Princess Di's limo pulled up at the curb and she exited with hundreds of cameramen lined up behind metal gates bordering the red carpet
while jostling for a camera angle. Only we don't have the gates (or the red carpet).

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Tuesday, November 14: Guarding the Ballots


At the 10:00 a.m. meeting of the Canvassing Board, Mark Wallace, lead Republican counsel, complained that County Commissioner Carol Roberts should recuse herself from the Canvassing Board because she was actively involved in the Gore campaign. Ms. Roberts stated that she had a Gore bumper sticker on her car and attended one cocktail party for Senator Lieberman. (The Gore campaign would have been in sorry shape if that had counted as "active.")

We haven't yet heard the Republicans complain about Secretary of State and Bush campaign co-chair Katherine Harris letting politics influence her decision.

The last person on earth I'd like to be is Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore. Seemingly every media outlet across the country has thrashed her for her design of the "butterfly ballot." Plus, the local Democratic faithful blame her ballot design for costing Gore about a 10,000-vote lead. She looks like she hasn't slept in a week. But the truth is that we're all wiped. The Canvassing Board members have received death threats.

The Board decided to hold the hand recount of the entire County's ballots at the Palm Beach Emergency Operation Center Building. Later this afternoon I was one of the two member Democratic "advance team" that toured the facility to work out the logistics for the
recount. Beforehand, I thought that it might be like the North and South Koreans at Panmunjom, who couldn't agree on the shape of the table and the height of the flagpoles, but it all went pretty smoothly.

We also examined the room where the ballots are stored. At the Supervisor's office, the ballots were placed into hundreds of small metal carrying cases, resembling briefcases, and locked with a numbered seal. Sheriff's deputies loaded them into a van and drove them to the Emergency Operations Center. One representative of each party rode in the van too.

When the vans arrived, deputies unloaded the ballot boxes onto several two-level rolling metal carts and wheeled them inside. The deputies then locked all doors from the inside except one. "Evidence" tape was then placed all along the perimeter of the doors on the inside, so that the doors could not be opened from inside or out without tearing the tape. A Sheriff's deputy, along with one representative of each party, is keeping a vigil outside of this door all night. Each party also has one representative drooping in a chair in the lobby of the building all night.

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Thursday, November 16: The Press Horde Has My Number


The hand count is now underway at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Security is rigid and one must show credentials to get in. Our observers met at 5:30 a.m. at the union hall. They were briefed and then driven in three vans to our "headquarters" set up directly across the street from the EOC in a parked Winnebago. The wheeled-office belongs to Jean Elliott Brown, a former congressional candidate. Staffers at the union hall coordinate replacement observers and supplies. There are 30 counting/observation teams inside.

The media frenzy continues. If you stop walking for a moment, reporters pounce to ask who you are. If one reporter is speaking to someone, then others all rush over to get in on the action. By now, I've spoken to so many reporters that they all seem to know me by my first name and have my cell phone number. The media has created a tent city in the parking lot in front of the building. Each network has staked out its own little territory and marked its name with masking tape on the ground to delineate its borders.

This morning the hand count did not get underway, because we learned that the Secretary of State was going to file an action with the Florida Supreme Court requesting that the Court declare that all hand counts are improper. We feel the delay is a big mistake because we're
under a time deadline. Infuriatingly, the Board voted 2 to1 to stop counting.

We had a hearing at 9:30 a.m. seeking to have the Court order the Canvassing Board to use a different standard for determining whether to count a ballot than it did in the sample hand count of four precincts performed on Saturday. Five of us attended, along with a slew of lawyers from the related cases and the ever-present press horde.

Incidentally, there are many volunteers, lawyers and otherwise, who have flown in at their own expense from all over the country to volunteer with the counting effort. They just show up every day and are assigned to fill in wherever we need people at the moment. This leads to some strange assignments. We have a young lawyer named Noah Feldman who graduated from Harvard, Yale Law School, clerked for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and now is a Fellow at Harvard. He arrived unexpectedly and was temporarily assigned to "data entry" until someone figured out that he might be of assistance to the legal team. He's now our chief legal researcher.

The Democrats' headquarters sprung up almost over night a few days ago. We have a big operational office, with about 50 computers, desks, partitions, copiers, faxes, and televisions (with cable) perpetually broadcasting six different channels to monitor the news. Plus, there
are always lots of snacks.


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Friday, November 17: And Visions of eBay Danced in Their Heads


We spent much of the day waiting around for court decisions that would permit the hand recount to begin. We expected that the Florida Supreme Court would let us continue to count. The Board wanted all observers and attorneys on site at 1:00 p.m. in case we could begin. As expected, the Florida Supreme Court's ruling was positive, but the Court didn't issue it until late afternoon.

When the decision came out, everyone sprung into motion to begin to hand recount at 6:00 p.m. The County provided dinner for the observers and staff -- chicken, red potatoes and carrots or Italian subs. There are only about 15 seats in the cafeteria behind the counting room, so most people have to bring the food back into the counting room or sit on the floor in the hallway outside.

When the two county workers inspect a ballot, they place it in one of 13 piles. Yellow post-it notes designate each pile. Three through 12 signify the 10 presidential candidates who had those numbers on the ballot. There are additional piles for the undervotes, overvotes, and challenged ballots. The workers were instructed to count each numbered pile and stack the ballots in groups of 50, and then place each grouping of 50 perpendicular to the one immediately below it. There were numerous mistakes -- 49 or 51 ballots in a group -- which caused seemingly endless recounts of each pile.

The Republicans also complained incessantly about the way the counters were handling the ballots. The preferred method is to lay a pile across the open palm of one's left hand, keeping one's thumb away from the ballot, and then to grasp the edges of the ballot with one's right hand to move it onto the counted pile on the desk. Many times, the ballots stick together, throwing off the count. At about 1:30 a.m., a Republican counter dropped some ballots on the floor. The observers started screeching, "Don't touch anything!" and everyone froze. Theresa LePore came over and scooped up the ballots. She placed these separately on the desk. There were 12 ballots.

An argument ensued in which Mark Wallace, the Republicans' lead attorney, insisted that the entire precinct of over 1,000 votes be recounted from scratch on the alleged theory that the worker may have knocked ballots from different piles on the floor and they were mixed together. I was standing right there, and the counter simply dropped a number that he had in his left hand; no other ballots were touched or moved. Tucker Eskew, the Bush campaign's chief spokesman, who had been standing a couple of rows away, insisted that he had seen ballots from different piles fall. Theresa packed up all of the ballots to have them recounted from scratch
tomorrow.

This was not the only time ballots fell on the floor and the observers freaked out. Each time, everyone froze until one of the members of the Canvassing Board gingerly picked up the card. A couple of times a chad fell on the floor. The Republican observers started hollering and one of their lawyers picked up the tiny piece of paper and placed it in a small clear plastic bag.

At the end of the night, the cases were all sealed with one-use-only plastic, numbered seals, and then sheriff's deputies carried them back to the room where they're stored. Evidence tape had been placed on the door when the ballots were removed earlier in the day. We inspected the tape to see that it hadn't been broken. Deputies opened the doors and carried the ballot cases inside. The door was shut and new evidence placed across the door and doorframe. The door cannot be opened without breaking the tape. Theresa LePore then initialed the tape on the door in three spots.

A major topic of conversation on the inside has been how valuable all of the stuff lying around would be on eBay. Everyone wants a souvenir.


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Tuesday, November 21: Dimples Outvoted


On Sunday and Monday evenings, I was the lead attorney reviewing challenged ballots with the Canvassing Board. On the Board, a majority decision controls how a ballot is counted. The Board is generally not counting dimpled ballots. This decision is typically made by a 2 to1
decision, with Judge Burton and Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore voting no and County Commissioner Carol Roberts voting yes. The legal standard is supposed to favor counting a ballot, but the Board's policy favors excluding ballots that clearly show a voter's intent.

Today, Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, visited the Emergency Operations Center. The media made a big deal of this, because Senator Kerrey has been such a thorn in the side of the Clinton/Gore Administration. When I told the Senator that I am the attorney who had reviewed the overseas absentee ballots, he said, "So you're the guy who's causing all the trouble." I then told him that the Republicans had attempted to preclude all overseas absentee ballots from civilians, but wanted to count those from military personnel. A few minutes later he was on CNN repeating this.

Later, Senator Kerrey sat with the attorneys and Canvassing Board in reviewing challenged ballots, most of which are dimpled, but not perforated.

We began, and the Canvassing Board declared one ballot to have no vote for any presidential candidate. But the chad for Gore was definitely pregnant. We objected. Commissioner Roberts then held up the card for Senator Kerrey and said that the Board had ruled this one a "no vote." She asked him if he saw any perforation in the left hand column of the ballot. He said no. She then said that the Democratic attorneys had claimed it was a Gore vote. He said he couldn't see a thing. I pointed out that #5 was indented just below the dot on the chad. He peered at it some more and again said that he didn't see anything. The Republican attorneys then made some tongue in cheek comments that the Senator should support their side of the argument. The Senator said that he better leave before he got us (Dems) in trouble.

We've been using the Winnebago as our headquarters outside the building since the first day of this recount. Our Massachusetts volunteers call it the "Winnie." The Republicans copied us and have one parked 50 yards away. Theirs is much larger and newer, which has been a big joke among our volunteers. For a brief time, we had the upper hand when we had a second Winnebago, but alas, no longer.

During the day, we erect a four post canopy and lawn chairs outside the vehicle permitting our volunteers to work on their tans. Our volunteers from out of state are thrilled that one can buy beer in Florida 24 hours a day, including Sundays. This makes for nightly runs to the convenience store to re-stock the Winnie's cooler.

Inside the vehicle, we have two laptops, a laser printer, and supplies. Dennis has been taking the morning shift inside, which starts at 7:00 a.m., and then snoozing in the Winnebago in the afternoon. He then takes the late shift, usually with me, which often ends at 1 or 2 a.m. We have a student on leave from the University of Massachusetts who's sleeping in the Winnebago each evening to guard the set up.

Many of our volunteers from out of state are going home Tuesday or Wednesday for Thanksgiving, which leaves us a bit shorthanded for observers. I assume that the Republicans will have the same difficulty. Most of their observers, it seems, are volunteers from Texas, while
most of ours are from Massachusetts. The Canvassing Board had wanted to finish everything by Wednesday, but this will not happen. They will work until Wednesday evening and then continue again on Sunday and Monday.


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Sunday, November 26: G.O.P. Stalling Tactics


The number of ballots that the observer teams deemed "questionable" was boggling. It's apparent that the Republican observers pulled out thousands of ballots containing Gore votes that were not questionable at all. The Board has to go through these one by one.

By this morning, the Board had come up with a strategy to hasten the pace. Precincts with large numbers of questionable ballots were pre-screened for a second time by other observer teams to try to weed out those ballots that contained clear votes. In one precinct that I reviewed as a Democratic observer, the prior team had designated 414 ballots as questionable. Two county workers, a Republican observer and I looked at those 414 ballots and we were able to agree that 382 were clear votes for one candidate or under or overvotes. Of these, about 280 were clear votes for Gore and 45 were clear votes for Bush. This means that the Republican observer in the original group had pulled out those 280 votes just to stall. If the Board had to go through the entire group of 414, it would have taken them an extra hour and we were racing against the clock.

Unfortunately, these stalling tactics were widespread. Because the Republican observers had caused the Board to review so many frivolous challenges, it probably added a full day's work for the Canvassing Board, and now we were in real danger of missing the 5:00 p.m. deadline for certifying the recount totals to the Secretary of State.

At about midnight last night, several pizzas were delivered. The local government channel was broadcasting our deliberations live. CNN, MSNBC et al. were taking this feed and showing us live all night. A lawyer in Boca Raton was watching and took it upon herself to treat us to Papa John's. We were all grateful and Commissioner Roberts thanked her on the air.

In order to speed up the process, the Board prohibited any comments from the lawyers other than bare objections. There were still plenty of admonitions when we disagreed with the Board's decisions. People were especially critical of Mark Wallace, the lead Republican attorney, whom both Judge Burton and Commissioner Roberts told to "stop whining."

We worked straight through the night. Even at 7:00 a.m., there were a few Bush leaning protesters outside and by the afternoon the crowd outside had swelled to about 400. It was pretty tough to get in and out of the building, because one had to fight through the crowd. Furthermore, there was a string of visiting politicians today, so security was really tight. I did go out to our Winnebago once and was met with a lot of rude comments, including one guy following me for a while shouting, "Go back to Massachusetts."

By this morning it was clear that we would not finish by 5:00 p.m., but would finish by this evening. Judge Burton, Chairman of the Canvassing Board, faxed a letter to Katherine Harris, asking her to give us until 9:00 a.m. on Monday to submit results. He followed up with phone calls in the afternoon, but as expected, Ms. Harris denied the request, even though we believe that this violated the Florida Supreme Court's orders.

At 4:20 p.m., the Board received official word that Ms. Harris insisted on receiving completed recount results by 5:00 p.m. By this time, we had reviewed the challenged ballots in all but 51 of the 637 precincts and Gore had received a net gain of 192 votes in the manual recount.

Everything was finished about 7:20 p.m. By then, the net gain was up to 215. At 8:30 p.m., Secretary Harris held a press conference to announce that she had rejected all of the Palm Beach County manual recount numbers, as well as recount numbers from some other counties in which Gore had obtained net gains. She had accepted recount numbers from some counties in which Bush had gained. This resulted in the 537 vote "official" lead that the media is reporting.

The Republican spin is that all votes have been counted by machine at least twice in every county. The only trouble is the machines don't read every vote. The counting includes much more than simply reading the dimpled ballots. In our hand recount, we found many, many ballots on which the voter had indicated a preference, but not punched the ballot in the prescribed way.

On some ballots, the voter had darkened in the numbers in each race for the candidate he or she wanted. On others, the voter punched out two different numbers, but wrote "Mistake" or something equally as clear, with an arrow pointing to one of the holes. This shows clear intent to cast a vote for one candidate. The tabulating machine records this as an "overvote" because more than one candidate's number is punched, and the ballot is disqualified in the machine count.


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Sunday, December 3: Have Bribe. Will Travel.


I'm aghast. The Florida legislature is actually considering handing the state's electors over to Bush -- never mind the effort of the voters and our grueling vote counting saga. The House is generally considered to be sort of a Bad News Bears operation, while people regard the individuals in the Senate more highly in terms of intellect and temperament.

The legislature is rabidly conservative. The Speaker of the House, Tom Feeney, is a poster boy for the Christian Coalition. Feeney was Governor Jeb Bush's running mate in his failed 1994 gubernatorial campaign. Incumbent Lawton Chiles defeated Bush in a very close election. Many people blame Bush's loss on the fact that Feeney was a big turn off to a lot of folks. This in turn upset the reported Bush master plan -- Jeb was supposed to run for President in 2000 after six years of being governor. How different things might have been today.

The legislature has established a select committee to hear testimony and then make a non-binding recommendation to the legislature to hold a special session.

I watched some of the select committee's hearing this afternoon. Senate chair of the committee Lisa Carlton had difficulty pronouncing any name that sounded vaguely Jewish. The Democratic attorneys had a Yale Law School professor named Bruce Ackerman testify by telephone. Senator Carlton asked him to introduce himself. He did and then she mispronounced his name and asked, "Where are you from again?" in a tone that seemed to convey that she'd never heard of the place.

There are large protests slated for Tuesday and Wednesday. Both sides are busing in protesters. I doubt that the people on the Democratic side are getting paid because we don't have the cash. The Bush protesters in south Florida last week were definitely being paid, however. Democratic infiltrators joined the crowd and Republican operatives offered them pay and expense money to keep coming back on subsequent days. (Now, it's reported that many of these protesters are the same people whom Cuban groups paid to stand outside of Elian Gonzalez's home in Little Havana. It's a regular cottage industry -- have sign and clever slogan, will travel.)

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Wednesday, December 13: The End of the End

I knew how the Supreme Court was likely to rule, but the decision last night crushed me anyway. After the announcement, the legal team had a statewide conference call at 11:00 p.m. The results were not encouraging, but the VP had not made any decision at that time.

This morning we had another conference call. Ron Klain said we are packing it in. Nevertheless, he said that he believes with every fiber of his being that the VP won Florida.

It's tempting to play the "if only" game, but it doesn't seem all that productive at present. If only the ballot design had been "normal"; if only Miami-Dade had gone ahead with its recount; if only the Palm Beach Canvassing Board had used an appropriate standard. The list is endless.

That was why it was so devastating to watch Al Gore give his concession speech tonight. And to watch "President-Elect Bush" sanctimoniously orate about being a "uniter, not a divider." I am too exhausted to pretend to pull together under our new president.

And I'm not the only one. Media and political scientists are already making plans to review the ballots. The Florida legislature may attempt to pass a law sealing the ballots away "for the good of the country." If they do, the inevitable legal challenges to this law will likely find their way to the Florida Supreme Court. I hope someone does get access to the ballots and reports who the real winner was. But I don't need to count again. I already know.

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