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Latest news on the Seminole Case

(***SEE Summary - Background - Details on Seminole case)

The Seminole case (# 00-2816, download complaint filing) is being heard in Leon County circuit court in Tallahassee by judge Nikki Clark under an expedited schedule culminating in a trial on December 6.1  (The case concerns 2,100 incomplete GOP absentee ballot requests that were selectively fixed by GOP workers invited into election offices by the GOP elections supervisor while similar Democratic absentee ballot requests were rejected; see background.)


12/3 - BREAKING NEWS from court hearings and documents:

  • A Plaintiff's expert witness who examined election office records and databases will testify that a "significant number" of the voter IDs filled in by the GOP were actually incorrect, yet all accepted by Goard.2 

  • According to sworn affidavits, Goard told two Democratic campaign workers on August 18, 2000 that she would accept no absentee ballot request that was missing a voter ID number.  She "emphasized that this was required by Florida state law."  When asked where to get voter ID numbers, she said her office "does not give out voter ID numbers."3 

  • In an Orlando WDBO radio interview broadcast as GOP workers were doctoring ballots in Goard's office, Goard stated that absentee ballot requests without voter IDs would not be honored.4 

12/1-3 highlights:

  • Maureen Dowd: "The Bushes sense trouble in Seminole and Martin Counties with those G.O.P.-doctored absentee ballot applications."5 

  • Washington Post: In a deposition last week, "Goard said her office sorted out the Republican rejects so they could be revised, but left rejected Democratic and independent applications sitting in a discard box."6 

  • LA Times: More than 550 similar Democratic ballot requests with missing information were rejected.7 

  • AP, Orlando Sentinel: GOP operative Michael Leech fixed 2,100 GOP absentee ballot requests over 15 days.  A elections computer was logged on in the room where he worked, unsupervised.8 

  • LA Times: Plaintiff's attorney confirmed that GOP fixed 2,132 absentee ballot requests that yielded 1,936 actual votes, 95% for Bush.9 

  • LA Times: Democrats point out that altering an absentee ballot application is a third-degree felony in Florida.10 

  • NY Times: Florida law lists the information, including the voter identification number, that ''the person making the request must disclose.''11 

  • NY Times: The Florida Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Clark's denial of a GOP request to recuse herself from the case.12 

  • AP: Seminole elections office stopped notifying voters about incomplete absentee ballot requests in early October, when GOP operatives began fixing GOP absentee ballot requests.13 

  • Palm Beach Post: Plaintiff's handwriting analysis indicates 1,900 ballot requests were altered.14 

  • NY Times, Wash. Post: Democrats suit for Martin County ballot request alterations goes to trial also 12/6 before circuit court judge Terry Lewis (non-overlapping times; download complaint filing).15 

  • US Newswire: Testimony 11/30 by elections office employees contradicts Goard's claim that she did not know the GOP operatives who fixed absentee ballot requests in her office.16

 

11/29-30 highlights (see below):

  • USA Today: "Florida law says all the county's absentee ballots must be voided" if any are tainted.17 

  • CNN: "Under Florida law, if absentee ballots have a problem with them, you have got to throw [out] all of the ballots, even if the applications have a problem."18 

  • LA Times: A profile of plaintiff Harry Jacobs.19 

  • GOP loses on three legal maneuvers.

  • In Martin County, hundreds of GOP absentee ballot requests were also fixed by GOP workers while Democratic requests were not processed.

  • Goard applied election law strictly against a Democratic candidate.

11/27-11/28 highlights (see below): 

  • Goard admits separating GOP absentee requests from Democratic requests (LA Times). 

  • Goard attorney pleads ignorance to the The Washington Post about selective corrections of only GOP absentee ballot requests.

  • The Wall Street Journal reports a close legal precedent, Roe v. Alabama (see ruling), in which an election was overturned.


References, 12/1-3 and highlights

 

1. AP 11/29/00; NY Times 11/29/2000, p. 26; CNN 11/29/2000.

2. Plaintiff's Expert Witness Disclosure Regarding James C. Erlandson.

3. Affidavits of W. Patrick Westerfield and Steve Hall.

4. US Newswire 12/3/2000.

5. NY Times 12/3/2000.

6.  Washington Post, 12/1/2000, p. A25.

7. LA Times, 12/2/2000, p. A20.

8. Orlando Sentinel 12/1/2000, p. A19; AP 12/1/2000.

9. LA Times, 12/2/2000, p. A20.

10. Ibid.

11. NY Times, 12/2/2000, p. 9.

12. NY Times, 12/2/2000, p. 9; US Newswire 12/1/2000.

13. AP 12/1/2000.

14. Palm Beach Post 12/1/2000.

15. NY Times, 12/2/2000, p. 9; Washington Post 12/2/2000, p. A16.

16. US Newswire 12/1/2000.

17. USA Today, 11/29/2000, p. 4A.

18. CNN 11/30/2000.

19. LA Times 11/29/2000, p. A26.

 

In what The Wall Street Journal described on November 30 as a "gambit appeared to be designed more for public consumption that for uncovering relevant evidence," GOP lawyer Terry Young asked to depose Al Gore.1 After Democratic lawyers objected, Young indicated he would drop the request.2 Judge Clark's decision to deny a GOP request to consolidate the Seminole suit with the Gore election contest before Circuit Judge Sauls was upheld Wednesday by a state district court of appeals.3 Finally, Judge Clark turned down a proposal by GOP attorneys that she should consider recusing herself because she had been rejected for an appellate judgeship by Florida Governor Jeb Bush.4 

The New York Times reported November 29 that hundreds of GOP absentee ballot requests missing voter IDs were taken out of the elections office in Martin County and filled in by GOP workers while similar requests from Democrats and independent voters were allowed to stack up unprocessed.5  Bush won the 9,800 absentee ballots cast in Martin County by a 2-to-1 margin6 as he did in Seminole County7 and as Suarez had done in the 1997 Miami mayoral contest that resulted in his ouster due to absentee ballot fraud.8 Bush won the total vote in both Seminole9 and Martin10 counties by a smaller, 56 percent margin. Local Democrats have stated their intention to sue over these GOP ballot request alterations in Martin County.11 

Salon reported that when a Democratic candidate for commissioner, Dean Ray, submitted 900 petitions for his candidacy earlier this year, Goard rejected 30% for a variety of reasons, and refused to give Ray back any of them to be completed or corrected.12 Florida Democratic Chairman Bob Poe observed, "she applies the law for the Democratic Party and violates the law for the Republicans."13 

References,

11/29 - 11/30

 

1. Wall Street Journal 11/30/2000, p. A12.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid; CNN 11/30/2000.

4. Wall Street Journal 11/30/2000, p. A12.

5.  New York Times, 11/29/2000, p. 26.

6. Ibid.

7. NY Times, 11/21/2000.

8. LA Times, 11/13/1997, p. A5.

9. NY Times 11/13/2000, p. 19.

10. New York Times, 11/29/2000, p. 26.

11. LA Times, 11/30/2000, p. A33.

12. Salon, 11/28/2000.

13. Ibid.

Major stories in the Los Angeles Times (11/28), The Washington Post (11/28) and The Wall Street Journal (11/27) covered, respectively, Goard's own startling admissions, the issue of alleged fraud in the case,  and a 1994 legal precedent, Roe v. Alabama, supporting a ruling against the GOP for what transpired in Seminole.

The Los Angeles Times reported: "Goard conceded that no one ever was allowed to correct applications in the past, and that her staff assisted the GOP representatives by sorting Republican applications from Democratic applications--something else that never had been done before."1 

The Times also quoted the following reply by Goard to a question posed by attorney Gerald Richman, from Goard's 132-page deposition: 

"A representative of the Republican Party was the one who was going ahead and resubmitting [ballots] after having added information to those cards, without the knowledge of the Democratic Party, and without any provision of the statute that says they could do so. Isn't that correct?" Richman asked in the deposition.

"Yes," Goard said, over the objections of her lawyers.2 

In The Washington Post, George Lardner, Jr. honed in on the pivotal issue in the Seminole case.3  Terry C. Young, Goard's lawyer, said that Goard "did no more than give the Republicans, who came equipped with their own database of voter ID numbers, a chair to sit in. He said she would have done the same if the Democrats had requested assistance."4 When asked, however, about affidavits contradicting that claim, Young replied that he had "not seen them."5 

In fact, Goard admitted she let similar incomplete absentee ballot requests, not among the 2,100 GOP requests she arranged to be fixed, pile up in her office unprocessed through election day, claiming there weren't "48 hours in a day" to attend to them.6  The flawed applications that piled up in Ms. Goard's office, The New York Times reported, were either Democratic forms or applications filed entirely at the initiative of individual voters.7 The Times also reported: "When asked if the Democrats were extended the same opportunity to review their voters applications for completeness, Bob Poe, the Semninole Democratic Party chairman, snapped: 'Hell no.'  Mr. Poe said he had complained about the practice to Ms. Goard last month, but she told him to 'go fly a kite.'"8 (Goard acknowledged getting a complaint from Poe, who called around October 30.8a)

This is the crux of the case: selective correction of GOP but not Democratic ballot requests in the Seminole election office constitutes improper intervention exceeding that of the Roe v. Alabama precedent (see below) for court action to overturn an election.  This may be why attorney Young felt he needed to fragrantly misstate the facts of the case as quoted above.

The Wall Street Journal covered the Seminole case in depth in an November 27th story: "A Lawsuit in Florida Could Be a Sleeper: Changes to Absentee Ballots Form Basis of Challenge With Possible Precedent."9  The article reviewed the case of Roe v. Alabama, involving 2,000 absentee ballots in a 1994 election for state chief supreme court justice that were accepted in one Alabama County without being properly completed according to state law.10  The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Florida, ordered the disputed ballots thrown out, resulting in the removal of the candidate who won based upon those ballots (see ruling); his opponent became chief justice.11 

The Wall Street Journal also noted that in the 23 years that Goard had been election supervisor, she knew of no other occasion in which such activity by GOP workers to complete absentee ballot requests had been allowed.12 

The Seminole case was covered earlier, over the weekend by the New York Times,13 Los Angeles Times,14 AP,15 and several other news sources.  The Seminole case even got first mention in Garrison Keillor's satirical review of election events on the November 25 Prairie Home Companion program.

The New York Times reported significant new details concerning the selective GOP alterations of GOP absentee ballot requests performed in Seminole County election offices:Ms. Goard, in interviews, had described the area the party worker used as a warehouse. But in depositions Wednesday she said that the room was full of active computer terminals linked to her elections database, and that the Republican Party worker was joined by a second man she could not identify. Both men were allowed to use the room unsupervised, she said.16

Goard identified the Republican worker who filled in the voter identification numbers in her office as Michael Leech; the second man who assisted Leech was GOP volunteer Ryan Mitchell.17 She said the room they had used, without supervision, housed 18 password-protected terminals linked to a mainframe computer that stored all of her voter elections records.18  “She made no effort to check what they brought into or out of her offices.”19

In a Time commentary, “Good clean cheating and dirty pool,” Richard Stengel addresses issues related to the Seminole case: “We're comfortable with buying or wrestling votes, or busing in mobs of protesters, but trying to use the courts to get people to abide by statutes, or to clear up murky ones, well, that's dirty pool.”20

References,

11/27 - 11/28

 

1. LA Times, 11/28/2000, p. A1.

2. Ibid.

3. Washington Post, 11/28/2000, p A13. 

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. NY Times, 11/14/2000.

7. NY Times, 11/21/2000;

8. NY Times 11/13/2000, p. 19.

8a. Washington Post, 12/1/2000, p. A25.

9. Wall Street Journal, 11/27/2000, p. A22.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. NY Times, 11/26/2000, p. 38.

14. LA Times, 11/26/2000, p. A18.

15.  AP 11/25/2000; AP 11/26/2000.

16.  NY Times, 11/26/2000, p. 38.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Time online, 11/26/2000.