TALLAHASSEE - More than 1,100 overseas absentee ballots were thrown out yesterday as Republicans complained of a coordinated challenge by Democrats, particularly against ballots from military personnel.
In some counties, half or nearly all of the ballots were rejected, many of them military ballots that apparently did not have postmarks. Orange County, for example, rejected 117 of its 147 overseas ballots.
With a handful of counties still counting, more than 1,500 overseas votes had been accepted statewide.
“The party of the man who wants to be the next commander-in-chief is trying to throw out the votes of the men and women he will be commanding,” charged Jim Post, a Republican lawyer in Duval County, where 107 ballots were rejected.
“We had a lot of ballots with no postmarks; so we had to declare them invalid,” said Dick Carlberg, assistant elections supervisor in Duval County.
Thomas Spencer, a Miami attorney for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, said the GOP legal team will weigh whether to sue this weekend. “One of the problems with those ballots is it is so difficult under Florida and federal law that you almost have to be a rocket scientist to comply,” he said.
Democrats dismissed the GOP suggestions of a coordinated campaign, noting local election officials made the decisions. “Rushing to a hasty conclusion and making partisan accusations is exactly what we don't need right now,” Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jenny Backus said.
Earlier this week, Mark Herron, a Tallahassee lawyer helping shepherd Democratic presidential election lawsuits through the local courts, sent a five-page letter to Democratic attorneys throughout Florida giving them tips on how to lodge protests against overseas ballots.
Such protests must be lodged before the ballot is taken out of the envelope. The letter focused on protesting military ballots, which are assumed to be heavily in favor of Mr. Bush, and included a section on military postmarks.
Mr. Herron said in an interview that his five-page letter “went to the folks we had in the field that were out there monitoring absentee ballots, just like the other side was out there. Our memo was intended to express the law of the state of Florida as we understand it and provide direction and guidance to the people who were in the field.
“I'm not the only one that did this,” he added. “Everybody got the opportunity to argue their case in front of the canvassing boards.”
Republicans circulated a letter dated yesterday from Navy Capt. E.M. DuCom, deputy director of the military postal service, who said military mail is required to be postmarked. But he added, “There are instances when time constraints do not allow for proper postmarking/cancellation of the mail. The last flight may be departing the ship and the mail has to get on it.”
Ed Gillespie, a Republican strategist working for Mr. Bush in Florida, said 110 of 113 write-in ballots, mostly from military forces, were invalidated by officials in Miami-Dade County. He said more than half were thrown out because they had no witness or witness address listed, but “the form doesn't indicate that a witness is necessary.”
With returns from 65 of 67 counties, Mr. Bush picked up 1,057 votes and Mr. Gore 597, giving the Republican a 760-vote statewide lead - up from 300 when the day began.
Counties have until noon today to report their overseas ballot results to Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who will not be able to certify the election until after the Florida Supreme Court meets Monday to hear arguments about ongoing hand recounts in South Florida.