"Rotten to the Gore!"

Bush supporters take it to the streets in Broward County, as the counting continues into the night in Palm Beach.


Jake Tapper
November 26, 2000 8:15AM (UTC)

Beneath hazy gray clouds that keep the street's immense palm trees from casting a shadow, a crowd of 400 or so supporters of Gov. George W. Bush has congregated outside the Broward County Courthouse. They protest the hand recount going on inside Courtroom 6780 that, when it finished before midnight on Saturday, added 567 votes to Vice President Al Gore's tally.

They chant -- "Rotten to the Gore! Rotten to the Gore!" among other things -- while Todd Beyer, who works as advance man for the Bush campaign, literally beats a drum.

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Other familiar faces from the campaign are scattered throughout, wearing orange baseball caps that read "W. Florida Recount Team."

"You're a bunch of Dummy-crats!" one from their number shouts on a megaphone to the pathetically sparse crowd of pro-Gore protesters across the way, many of whom hold signs deriding "Bushit."

"You couldn't even get a ballot right in Palm Beach!" the pro-Bush protester continues. "What a bunch of losers! I've never seen so many losers in one place!" The Bush crowd laughs.

One protester holds a sign featuring Gore's head in a noose next to the words "Gore: Hangin' by a chad."

Another sign reads: "Hey, Gore, I hear Hell needs a president."

Every few minutes, Republicans who identify themselves only as "volunteers" exit a Windsor Monaco RV parked down the street and distribute T-shirts and baseball caps for free to the ravenous crowd.

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"How to STEAL an Election," one popular shirt reads. "1. Count all votes. 2. Re-count all votes. 3. Re-count some votes. 4. Hand count some votes. 5. Change the rules. 6. Exclude the military."

Who's paying for those shirts? I ask a 30ish blond, bespectacled young man sporting a flannel that says "Jeb."

"I'm just a volunteer," he says.

Yeah, but who's paying for the shirts?

"I dunno," he says. "I'm just a volunteer."

To get to Courtroom 6780, you have to go through security, take an elevator to the third floor, walk down a long hallway, make your way past another sheriff's deputy, and then take yet another elevator to the sixth floor. Inside the room, faces familiar from the cable news, Judge Robert W. Lee, County Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger and Judge Robert Rosenberg, inspect absentee ballots.

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Republican governors like Frank Keating of Oklahoma, Bill Janklow of South Dakota, Mark Racicot of Montana and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey saunter in and out of the room. Republicans Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California show up to watch the hand recount. This is the place to be. Bush staffers like media coordinator Megan Moran, political staffer Ken Mellman and spokesman Ray Sullivan walk the halls.

Democrats are there, but they are shorter in both stature and number. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida and Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland enter the courtroom, then exit. A Gore Recount Committee aide explains that Hastings is here to appeal to black voters, Mikulski to women and Nadler to Jews. Typical clueless Democrat balkanization.

Inside the courtroom, the board -- surrounded by party observers -- tries not to pay much attention to the in-and-out of reporters, the media and the half-dozen or so members of the public.

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"That's a Gore vote," says Gunzburger.

"I agree," says Lee. "OK, that's A024, plus one Gore."

I ask Keating why he's here. "As all of us, we're here to encourage that the process be fair and final," he says. "It will be final, but it can never be fair when you are re-recounting exclusively Democratic counties with almost exclusively Democratic supervisors."

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Keating also has harsh words for the process of assessing voter intent by studying the chad. "They are attempting not just to divine the intent of the voter, but to invent," he says. "Listen to the language in there. They say 'intend to vote Bush,' or 'intend to vote Gore.' How do they know?"

"It's one thing to intend to vote, and quite something else to vote," he says, adding that he "saw chad on the table."

Janklow, sipping a Coke and wearing a clearly underused Champion workout suit, expresses astonishment at Florida's county-by-county standards. "How can you have one standard in Fort Lauderdale and another standard in Miami?" he asks.

"And the three different [Broward] officers have three different standards," Keating adds.

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Janklow shakes his head. "That's just unheard of anyplace in America ... How do you play a game without rules?" He adds that he came down to Florida because "I've never seen an election stolen before."

Outside, the crowd is chanting. "Na na NA NA, Na na NA NA, Hey, hey, hey, Gore lies!"

A Republican state senator from western Maryland, Alex Mooney, 29, bellows on his megaphone. "We carried almost the whole darn country except for a few cities!" Mooney yells, apparently unimpressed that Gore actually won the popular vote by more than 300,000 votes. Mooney proceeds through a list of states Bush won -- "Who won Alabama?!" "BUSH!" "Who won Mississippi?!" "BUSH!" -- before arriving at "And who won Florida?!"

Another "volunteer" distributes dozens of free T-shirts that read "GOREY Mess."

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"I'm just a volunteer," he says when I ask him who he is and who paid for the shirts. "I just bring 'em."

The black hecklers from "Freedom Fighters International," who shouted down Rev. Jesse Jackson a week and a half ago, suddenly show. Their leader, Michael Symonett, denies that they have been paid to shout down Democrats. Symonett says that he's rich, owns his own V-12 and no one could pay him to be there if he tried. They're there to protest the legacy of the Dixiecrats, which they see as Gore's shameful family history.

In Tallahassee, meanwhile, Democratic lawyers are preparing to contest the election, which should be certified Sunday at 5 p.m. EST. They plan on challenging the results in four counties, suing their canvassing boards for four different reasons: Nassau County, for deferring to its first night's results instead of its machine recount numbers, which ended up in a loss of 51 Gore votes; Seminole County, where a Republican elections supervisor let Republican operatives fill out voter ID numbers for Republican voters' absentee-ballot applications; Dade County, where the canvassing board never finished its hand recount; and Palm Beach County, where Gore attorneys think the three-Democrat canvassing board has been too stringent on its chad requirements.

Democrats' P.R. efforts, meanwhile, offer much to be desired. At 2 p.m. at the Palm Beach Airport Hilton, Gore's team puts together a town meeting of "disenfranchised" Palm Beach voters, led by state minority leader, Rep. Lois Frankel, and state Sen. Ron Klein.

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"I took my 5-year-old son to vote," Klein tells the crowd of around 150. "It looked to me to be very confusing. It looked to me that there was a misalignment of the holes and arrows."

Signs on the wall read: "Seniors are not stupid" and "Texas Dimples Count."

"By late in the morning," Klein says, "the entire county was in an uproar!" But the elections supervisor, Theresa LePore, wasn't prepared for the chaos, he says.

After Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic delegate from Washington, D.C., compares the disenfranchisement of Palm Beachers to that of Washingtonians who pay taxes but have no representation in the House and Senate, one after another Palm Beach voter grabs the mike to tell her a tale of woe. Democratic operatives acknowledge that there's no hope for a re-vote, but they want to "put a human face" on what happened in Palm Beach County. Only a couple of TV cameras came by, though, so how many people see -- much less care -- about this human face is up for debate.

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A mile or so west on Southern Boulevard, at the Emergency Operation Center, LePore and her chums on the Palm Beach canvassing board -- Judge Charles Burton and County Commissioner Carol Roberts -- are tearing through the 8,000 or so disputed ballots they have left to rule on.

The county's director of public affairs, Denise Cote, walks a few reporters through the task at hand. There were anywhere from 14,000 to 15,000 disputed ballots. Over the course of the original recount, somewhere around 4,000 of these were counted. The board got through 2,000 on Friday.

How on earth will they be able to get through 8,000 more by Sunday at 4:59 p.m.? I ask.

"They're committed to finishing the process," Cote says. "They're going to quicken the pace. They indicated to me that they would work through the night if need be." She points out that "it's not going to be over" on Sunday, since the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments over a Bush petition on Friday, there will be an appeal to the ruling against a re-vote in Palm Beach County, "and a potpourri of lawsuits going on here."

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I ask how LePore, Roberts and Roberts' moods are, slammed as they've been by the Republicans for even conducting the count, and by the Democrats for being too discriminating in their chad-love.

"They seem to be quite jovial," Cote says. "They work well together."

Burton rolls up a piece of trash and throws it at the trash can, hoops-style. He misses.

"You almost hit it!" Roberts says.

What of the Republicans who are quoting LePore's chad ruling from 1990, when she was deputy elections supervisor and only accepted chads that had broken off from the ballot on at least two corners?

"The policy is more extensive than that," Cote says. Rather, she says, it's up to the discretion of the canvassing board.

"Undervote," Burton says. Roberts squints and holds the ballot up to the light, then places it down on the table.

"Undervote," he says again.

A couple of different times, Burton becomes amused at the ballots themselves. He holds one up for the cameras: "It's punched out and it says 'This one,'" he says. At another point, on another ballot, the holes are unusually large. "This is somebody who wanted their vote to count. It looks like they used a shotgun," Burton says. "I mean talk about removing a chad."

The Emergency Operations Center is a bleak building, bereft by necessity of windows and charm. Its neighbors are a hole-in-the-wall strip joint and a liquor store.

You're usually only here during hurricanes, right? I ask Cote.

"Yes," she says. "But we always have a warning for hurricanes. So there's a difference. We didn't get a warning for this."

Shortly before 10 p.m. on Saturday night, there's a dispute between Burton and a GOP observer over a Gore ballot. When absentee ballots are covered with anything -- lipstick, say, or maybe ketchup -- they are often unable to be processed through the tabulation machine. So election workers will take a pink ballot -- its "mate" -- and punch the corresponding holes in it, running it through the machine and attaching it to the original ballot.

Members of the canvassing board, saying that they're used to seeing ballots and their "mates" in different boxes, want to count a pink Gore "mate" as a vote, expecting to see its original ballot in one of the 186 precincts they have left to go through. The GOP observer objects, and wants the board to track down the original ballot before counting the mate as a vote.

While Burton and the Republican have at it, Roberts excuses herself and walks over to a few reporters.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and GOP South Carolina political operative Tucker Eskew are wandering around.

How's it going, we ask her.

"Good," she says. "It's always in the back of your mind that you're here preserving democracy. This is how the democratic process works. It's kind of awesome to think you're part of history. A tremendous responsibility."

Has she heard any of the criticisms from Republican governors of Gore "stealing" the election, of the corruptness of the process?

Roberts says that she doesn't have time to watch TV. "I go home, have a glass of wine and go to bed," she says.

What about the protests at Miami-Dade, in Broward? The crowds saying that the process isn't fair? "I don't know about Broward," she says. "But every person who's walked in here -- whether Governor Whitman, or Congressman [Ben] Gilman [R-N.Y.], all Republicans and Democrats have said this is very orderly and very professional. [Former White House adviser David] Gergen came here and said, 'This is nothing like what I was told.'"

Is she still protected by police? Still getting death threats?

"I don't know," she says. "I changed my phone number, after 25 years of having the same phone number listed."

She says she might be up all night. "We'll finish by 5," she insists. "Because we understand that's how long [Secretary of State] Katherine Harris is keeping her office open."

She shouts to the table that she wants to get back to counting. "We need to be accurate, Carol," the observer responds. "It sounds like the R's would like us to take a lot of time," she says, appearing to suggest that the Republicans want to run out the clock before the deadline. "The original's probably in another box. We have it."

What of Cote's assessment that they have 8,000 more ballots to go through?

"I don't think she's right," Roberts says. "We have 186 out of 637 to go."

Soon she's beckoned back to the table.

"Five," LePore says, meaning a Gore vote.

"Five," says Burton.

"Five," says LePore.

"Five," says Burton. They're tearing through the ballots now, a GOP observer sitting between the two of them watching every ballot.

"Five," LePore says.

"Over, five and six," Burton says, meaning a vote for both Gore and Buchanan, which won't count.

"Five," LePore says.

"Five," Burton says.

"Three," says LePore, meaning a Bush vote.

They finish the batch. Six 3s. Burton counts the 5s for Gore. Another GOP observer thinks that he messed up the count, so they ask Roberts to count them. She gets annoyed.

"Come on guys," she snaps. "I want to get through this."

"Nobody's trying to obstruct the process," says the observer.

"Ninety No. 5s," is the final count for Gore in this batch. But that doesn't mean 90 new votes for Gore -- it just means 90 Gore votes that Republicans had originally wondered about, and raised objections to, were now firmly Gore. It might have been a net gain of one or two for Gore, or one or two for Bush, or nothing at all.


Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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