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Judges to Rule Whether to Invalidate Thousands of Absentee Ballots in Two Florida Counties

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Meanwhile, two Florida judges will rule over whether to discard 25,000 absentee ballots that lawyers say were tainted because Republicans altered election documents. In the two cases, affecting Seminole and Martin counties, judges must decide whether Republicans improperly filled in voter registration numbers on ballots that had already been cast and discarded, so that they could be counted as valid. If the judges rule the ballots should be discarded, it would give Gore a lead of thousands of votes. [includes rush transcript]


  • Phil Long, staff reporter for the Miami Herald covering the Seminole trial.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the telephone by Phil Long, also from Tallahassee, a staff reporter for the Miami Herald covering the Seminole trial. Can you talk about what has gone on in that trial for the last day?

PHIL LONG: Well, we’re at the same wait-and-see position that Leslie’s in with the Supreme Court. We are waiting for a ruling from Judges Lewis and Clark, which is now affectionately called the Lewis and Clark expedition. And that is — they’re expected sometime today.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, in the Seminole trial, in terms of the testimony, what would you say were the most telling points in the — during the trial that the judges will have to rule on?

PHIL LONG: Well, there’s no question, almost no dispute of the facts now. There was a Republican operative that had access to perhaps 2,200 ballot application forms. And it’s important to understand the difference between the ballot application form and the ballots themselves. And the Republican operative went ahead and changed the — or added the voter identification numbers, which are a prerequisite to even getting a ballot. And that allowed these 2,200 people to get a ballot. So that’s pretty much uncontested.

What is the issue here is, what’s the remedy? Was that — first, was it wrong? Was it a violation of the law? And then what’s the remedy? The judge, Judge Clark, she made it pretty clear yesterday, she asked whether this adding or correcting of information is really sufficient to invalidate the ballot, or on the contrary side, if there was some wrongdoing, that the Republicans were treated differently than the Democrats, did that really affect the integrity of the election process. A lot of discussion about the integrity of the election process. So she, the judge in the Seminole case, over and over asking the lawyers, well, you know, what’s the remedy here?

JUAN GONZALEZ: In the Seminole case, it wasn’t just the issue of whether the Republicans were permitted, but whether the canvassing board supervisor specifically did not allow the Democrats or Independents to have the same access or notify them. Isn’t that right?

PHIL LONG: Interesting point. The deal was on this, Democrats did it right the first time. When they sent in their application forms, they had the ID numbers on them as they were supposed to. So it wasn’t as if the Democrats had a big problem to begin with. But clearly she did not — the supervisor did not notify the Democrats or not notify other people whose absentee ballot applications were insufficient or incomplete.

AMY GOODMAN: Were there crimes committed here?

PHIL LONG: Well, that’s what the judge asked. And the interesting — we had a ruling late last night on a similar case, not the Seminole or the Martin case, but there was another case laying out there out of Bay County. And in that, the judge may have sent a signal of what might come. And he says very clearly in that case, when he dismissed it last night, that there was no question that any absentee ballot had been invalidated, because of — or put in jeopardy in any way or any indication that there was not a vote by the — or the will of the people was not expressed in these absentee ballots in another county. Very similar issues, and he basically said, “No foul here.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in the Martin case, is similar arguments being discussed in the courtrooms there yesterday?

PHIL LONG: Very similar arguments, but in the Martin case, there is a — there’s another little interesting twist. As opposed to the Seminole and Bay — Seminole case where all the action took place inside the Supervisor of Elections office, in Martin County, the supervisor apparently let the Republican operatives take some of these ballots home or wherever — or not ballots, excuse me, the application forms — home or wherever and do the editing and fixing there and then brought them back. That’s an interesting little twist that they made a lot of discussion about yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much for being with us from Tallahassee, Phil Long, staff reporter for the Miami Herald, covering the Seminole trial.

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