Gore troops surrender on military ballots

If some overseas votes without postmarks are counted, they could boost Bush's tally.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published November 21, 2000 1:35PM (EST)

Military ballots have become another battlefront in the war for Florida's 25 electoral votes. According to CNN, Bob Butterworth, Florida's attorney general and an ally of Vice President Al Gore's, issued a statement encouraging counties to ignore postmark problems when counting overseas absentee ballots from military personnel. "No man or woman in military service to this nation should have his or her vote rejected solely due to the absence of a postmark, particularly when military officials have publicly stated that the postmarking of military mail is not always possible under sea or field conditions," Butterworth said. Democratic veep nominee Joseph Lieberman had made similar conciliatory comments over the weekend.

Surrogates of Gov. George W. Bush have been beating up the vice president for what they call an organized Democratic attempt to disenfranchise military personnel just because of their political beliefs. But the statements from Butterworth and Lieberman so far have not led Republicans to call a rhetorical cease-fire. "This is a belated attempt at damage control by Al Gore's supporters, who have already inflicted damage on America's military men and women," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Some overseas ballots still adrift
Though the GOP hopes that exempting military men and women from postmark rules could give it a big boost, USA Today reports that even with this exception, many overseas ballots could be tossed overboard. Of the 1,527 overseas ballots that were rejected, only 11 percent lacked a postmark, while 24 percent were discarded because they were postmarked after Election Day. An additional 5 percent of the discarded ballots aren't being counted because of improper signatures, and 49 percent were thrown out for assorted other violations.

If ballots without the proper postmark were allowed to be counted, it would put 535 votes back in contention, the majority of which Bush backers believe would go to their candidate. Of the 2,130 overseas ballots counted, the Texas governor received 1,380 votes, or approximately 65 percent. However, it remains unclear how many of those disputed overseas ballots are from military personnel, and the gain for Bush could be smaller than expected.

Quick-change artists
As the Florida fight continues, the delay in declaring a presidential victor is trimming transition time. Reuters reports that a new administration could pay the price in its first days with a struggle to get up to speed. "The president-elect does not have a day to lose, and we have already lost two weeks," said Charles Jones, a transition expert from the University of Wisconsin. "A failing transition really makes it very difficult to get your government or presidency off the ground." Paul Light, a governmental studies expert at the Brookings Institution, believes that the late start could compromise the appointment process. "With these delays we would not expect a fully complete administration until January or February of 2002," said Light.

While Gore has an experience advantage over Bush that could help in transition planning, Light believes that such an edge would be dulled by lingering hard feelings in Congress from the Florida fight. "You hear that in the Sunday talk shows, where Republicans are really saying some pretty harsh things. We would expect revenge to be taken in the appointments process," said Light. "We could basically, given the partisan divisions and delays, be seeing with Gore an administration which is never fully completed until after the campaign for 2004 is in motion."

Poll position
According to a CBS News survey, 66 percent of Americans believe that the impasse in Florida is a "big problem" for the nation. But there were mixed results on how quickly it needs to be solved, with 50 percent of those polled saying that they are willing to wait for a resolution and 45 percent saying that they have already waited long enough.

By the numbers

  • 930 -- Number of votes Bush currently leads Gore by in Florida (CNN)
  • 216,427 -- Number of votes Gore currently leads Bush by nationwide (Los Angeles Times)
  • 4,700 -- Number of absentee ballots in Seminole County that a Democratic lawsuit claims were improperly processed (Reuters)
  • 15,215 -- Number of absentee ballots that suit aims to disqualify (Reuters)

    For more on the Florida recount, read the latest election news, updated frequently.

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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