"We've had a wreck here"

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and thousands gather to protest the controversial ballot that caused many Gore supporters to vote for Pat Buchanan.

By John Lantigua

Published November 9, 2000 7:51PM (EST)

Invoking the spirit of the civil rights movement and the historical alliance between blacks and Jews, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a "national rally" here on Thursday to demand a new election in Palm Beach County.

Before a noisy crowd of 2,500 people, Jackson said the high vote count for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan was the result of a "misalignment" -- a reference to the controversial "butterfly" design of the ballot in Palm Beach County, which led to erroneous votes and the nullification of 19,000 votes.

"When you're going down the road and your wheels are not aligned, you have a wreck," Jackson told the crowd. "We've had a wreck here in Palm Beach County ... We will march until we have fairness in this election."

"We want not just a recount or a revote, we want a fair first vote," said Jackson.

The rally was spirited and, at moments, angry. The crowd consisted largely of Gore supporters and reflected the area's large black and Jewish populations. Representatives from both of those groups criticized the ballot.

"Today, you see an exercise," said Mikel Jones, aide to Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. "We're fired up, we won't take it anymore." Jones' comments drew some of the loudest cheers of the day.

One supporter of the revote, Robert Hirst, 65, of Boynton Beach, sounded a warning about possible upheaval.

"There may be civil disturbances, but I hope not," he said. "We want this determined by law, and we should abide by that verdict." James Harper, a state representative from Riviera Beach, had harsher words. "The Bush brothers do not own this country; it is owned by the people, for the people," he said.

Gustav Sallas, 36, of Lake Worth, offered this impeachment analogy: "During the Lewinsky matter," he said, "the GOP was telling us they wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Well, this is much more important than the Lewinsky matter or the Arkansas land deal. We are talking now about the White House. We need a revote to avoid the appearance of impropriety."

Sallas minced no words when speaking of Theresa LaPore, the county's commissioner of elections. "She's a Democrat, I know, but let's face it: In this case, she screwed the pooch."

Toby Loveler, a West Palm Beach polling place inspector, said she realized there would be problems with the butterfly ballot the first time she laid eyes on it. "When I was starting to bundle the ballots, I could tell right away that an unusual number of people had voted twice for president. There was obviously something wrong," she said.

The rally and criticisms weren't the exclusive reserve of Democrats. One Bush supporter at the rally, Katheryn Lewis, 18, said, "I voted for Bush, but I believe there has to be a revote. We have so many senior citizens who could have made mistakes. I'm a Republican and I voted for Bush, but what happened is unfair."

Three Palm Beach voters sued late Wednesday to force another vote in the county, alleging that the badly designed ballot was illegal and caused Democrats to cast their votes for Buchanan when they were trying to vote for Vice President Al Gore. Even Buchanan jumped into the fray Thursday, telling NBC's "Today" that "it seems to me that these 3,000 votes people are talking about -- most of those are probably not my vote and that may be enough to give the margin to Mr. Gore."

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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2000 Elections Al Gore George W. Bush