County official knew about ballot confusion

Palm Beach County's elections supervisor distributed a memo to workers about voter confusion -- hours after the polls opened.

Published November 9, 2000 11:59PM (EST)

According to a memo distributed to poll workers in Palm Beach County Tuesday afternoon, the county's supervisor of elections was already aware that voters were struggling with the confusing butterfly ballot her office had prepared.

More than 19,000 ballots were nullified in Palm Beach County because voters selected more than one candidate as their presidential choice. Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan received a surprising 3,407 votes -- more than three times the votes the ultraconservative candidate received in any other Florida county, and almost 20 percent of his total in the state. Some complained that they had erroneously voted for the Reform Party candidate, and three voters filed suit Wednesday to force a revote in the county.

The Election Day memo, written by Theresa LePore, states "Please remind all voters coming in that they are to vote only for one (1) presidential candidate and that they are to punch the hole next to the arrow next to the number next to the candidate they wish to vote for."

Florida State Rep. Irv Slosberg, who was rallying voters at the Whisper Walk precinct near Boca Raton, says workers at that polling place weren't given the memo until sometime in the afternoon, at least five hours after the polls had opened.

Slosberg aide Lawrence Victoria, who was working at nearby Century Village, says poll workers there didn't receive the letter until sometime between 12 and 1 p.m. Due to complaints about confusion, Democratic volunteers began telling voters to "punch number five if you want to vote for Gore." But Victoria was unaware whether similar efforts were undertaken elsewhere in Palm Beach County.

Slosberg says he's outraged by Tuesday's outcome. "It was an illegal ballot. We threw the penalty flags down and now we want the refs to come and declare first and 10.

"It's not frivolous," Slosberg says. "I think there's strength in numbers. We have 20,000 people disenfranchised here."

According to Salon's Jake Tapper, LePore's memo was written after DNC officials complained to her in an 11:24 a.m. fax. The DNC missive stated "apparently certain presidential ballots in several precincts in Palm Beach County are quite confusing ... You should immediately instruct all deputy supervisors and other officials at these precincts that they should advise all electors (and post a written advisory) that the ballots that the presidential race list is two pages long and that the electors should only vote for one presidential candidate."

But Slosberg aide Victoria says the DNC complaint wasn't the first. While visiting one of several precincts on his get-out-the-vote tour around Boca Raton, Victoria says he overheard one Democratic volunteer calling to complain to LaPore's office about the confusing ballot at 8:30 a.m.

By John Lantigua

John Lantigua is a Miami freelance writer. He shared the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for his work at the Miami Herald. Lantigua's fifth novel, "The Ultimate Havana" will be published next year by Signet.

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