Absentee Ballot Challenge Is Gore's Long Shot

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - After suffering legal setbacks from both the U.S. Supreme Court and a Florida Circuit Court this week in his bid for the White House, Vice President Al Gore is pinning his hopes on lawsuits that seek to throw out thousands of absentee ballots from two Florida counties, effectively giving him the presidency.

Although experts say the challenges are legal long shots at best and Gore's lawyers have not actively participated in the suits, Gore said Tuesday he believes officials in Seminole and Martin Counties were favorable to Republicans and not to Democrats.

If successful, some 25,000 ballots would be thrown out in counties that heavily favored President-elect George W. Bush, giving Gore a net lead of more than 7,000 votes, thousands more than he needs to win the state.

In the Seminole lawsuit, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Nikki Clark - a former aide to the late Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles - will decide Wednesday whether Republican officials violated 1998 anti-fraud laws when an election supervisor allowed GOP workers to add voter ID numbers to absentee ballot applications.

The suit, which was filed by Harry Jacobs, a well-known Orlando trial lawyer and a registered Democrat, charges that Elections Supervisor Sandra Goard, a Republican, acted illegally when she allowed two GOP workers access to the county elections office so they could add voter ID numbers to 5,000 absentee ballot requests.

In pre-election mailings to registered voters this year, applications sent out by Republicans either did not have a voter ID number or an incorrect one.

When Republicans learned of the mistake on the ballot requests in the weeks prior to the election, Goard allowed GOP workers to fill in the voter ID numbers on about 5,000 ballot applications.

When Jacobs learned of the incident after the election, he charged that the Republican Party had been allowed to tamper illegally with the applications. Since the 5,000 applications in question could not be distinguished from the total of 15,000 that had been sent out in Seminole County, all of the absentee ballots should be thrown out, he said.

Jacobs' suit is based on a 1998 law that says the only person who can request an absentee ballot is the voter, or a member of the voter's immediate family, or the voter's legal guardian. A third party who would add this information is guilty of tampering, the suit said.

But Capt. Sam Wright, an ombudsman for the Reserve Officers Association and an expert on Florida's election laws, said to speak about "tampering" is misleading.

"Republican officials were given the opportunity to correct an error with a view toward enfranchising people who were entitled to vote. They were doing a public service. The people who needed to vote by absentee ballot had made good faith applications and the Republican Party realized its own error and was just trying to correct it," he said.

The officials added the voter ID numbers after the applications came back but before the ballots themselves were sent out.

It would be difficult for Gore, who is mounting his challenge to Bush's certified win in Florida on the basis that all votes should be counted, to reverse his position and start calling for the disqualification of 15,000 votes because of a technicality, Wright said.

Even if Gore receives a favorable ruling from Judge Clark, the Florida Supreme Court, based on its own precedent, will have no option but to reverse the decision, Wright said.

The Martin County lawsuit, filed by another Democrat, is almost identical. The plaintiff alleges the same laws were broken when the elections supervisor allowed Republicans to alter GOP-issued ballot request forms with missing ID numbers that made them invalid.

The absentee vote in both counties favored Bush by 2-to-1. Gore on Tuesday declined to say whether or not the outcome of those two cases would effect his decision to concede the presidential race to Bush.