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Democrats lose bid to throw out 25,000 absentee ballots in Florida election

Judges Nikki Clark, left, and Terry Lewis
Judges Nikki Clark, left, and Terry Lewis presided over the absentee ballots lawsuits in Seminole County and Martin County respectively  

In this story:

Reaction from Jacobs

Reaction from the Bush team

Background of the cases


TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Saying that the sanctity of the election was left intact despite "irregularities" with the way ballot applications were handled, two Florida judges on Friday refused to throw out 25,000 absentee ballots in Seminole and Martin counties.

A joint ruling in two separately argued cases were issued together Friday afternoon. Leon County Circuit Judge Nikki Clark heard the Seminole County case, where some 15,000 absentee ballots were at issue. Another Leon County judge, Terry Lewis, heard the Martin County case, which involved the legality of some 10,000 absentee ballots.

Order upholding absentee ballots in Seminole County, Florida
Order upholding absentee ballots in Martin County, Florida

(requires Adobe® Acrobat® Reader™)

graphic  VIDEO
Court administrator Terre Cass reads ruling in the Florida absentee ballot cases (December 8)

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The Boardman case on the will of the voter is the guiding principal in absentee ballot cases. CNN's Charles Bierbauer explains (December 7)

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Emory Law School's Robert Schapiro answers questions on Seminole County and Martin County cases
Attorney Gary Farmer: Martin County Florida absentee ballot trial
graphic  DOCUMENTS
Notice of Appeal in Martin County lawsuit (FindLaw)
Documents in Jacobs v. Seminole County Canvassing Board
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Despite irregularities in the process for filing applications to receive absentee ballots, "neither the sanctity of the ballots nor the integrity of the election has been compromised," the judges wrote.

Republican George W. Bush won the absentee vote in both counties -- by 10,006 votes in Seminole and 6,294 votes in Martin.

Democrat Al Gore received 5,000 votes in Seminole and 3,479 in Martin.

Bush has been certified the winner in Florida by 537 votes.

The Friday rulings represent a defeat for Gore, who would have overtaken Bush's slim lead if the judges had ruled for Seminole County Democrat Harry Jacobs and Martin County Democrat Ronald Taylor.

Gore was not directly involved in the lawsuits.

Reaction from Jacobs

Jacobs' attorney, Gerald Richman, expressed confidence that Jacobs would win the appeal, which Richman filed shortly after Clark and Lewis publicly announced their joint ruling.

He said he did not agree that the election was not tainted because there was a legal problem with the way 15,000 voters got absentee ballots.

"Ultimately, the (state) Supreme Court will be the decider of this issue," he said. "We think on the facts of the record in this case we have a reasonable chance of winning."

Referring to Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Sandra Goard's decision to allow GOP workers to add missing voter registration numbers to ballot applications, Richman said Clark found that Goard's decision was "faulty judgment."

"We believe very strongly that what occurred in this case was intentional, knowing wrongdoing because both the Republican Party and the supervisor of elections knew exactly what they were doing," Richman said.

"How can you have ... an absentee ballot if the process of getting it was in violation of the law?" Richman said.

Reaction from the Bush team

Bush attorney Barry Richard said the Democratic side did not prove its case and the judges ruled correctly.

"The judges found properly that these were hypertechnical violations of the statutes and ... that they did not in any way interfere with the will of the people," Richard said. "The law of this state is hypertechnical violations of the statutes do not warrant invalidating ballots."

He also said the Democrats do not have sufficient grounds for winning appeals.

"There was no evidence presented at the trial that would warrant overturning" the decisions, he said.

Another Bush lawyer, Daryl Bristow, said Clark essentially agreed that minor violations of the law did not deserve throwing out thousands of ballots.

"I believe in legal language what she said is what we have said all along," he said. "This is a very fine moment."

He also said Jacobs' case was "absolutely bogus."

Background of the cases

Terre Cass
Florida Circuit Court Spokeswoman Terre Cass announces the joint ruling  

Jacobs v. Seminole County Canvassing Board and Taylor v. Martin County Canvassing Board involved similar allegations.

They alleged that thousands of absentee voters sent in incomplete applications to receive the ballots from election officials.

After initially rejecting the applications for lacking the voter registration numbers as required by Florida law, Goard and Martin County elections supervisor Peggy Robbins illegally allowed Republican Party workers to include the registration numbers, according to the lawsuits.

Under Florida law, only voters, their legal guardians or immediate family members may request ballot applications, according to the lawsuits.

By allowing GOP workers to amend the applications, Goard and Robbins allowed absentee voters to cast their ballots when they should have been barred from doing so, the lawsuits allege.

The Florida Democratic Party was denied the chance to amend the ballot applications, the lawsuits allege.

Judges hear oral arguments in Florida absentee-ballot applications cases
December 7, 2000
Court watchers disagree on how judges hearing absentee-vote lawsuits would rule
December 6, 2000
Election battle returns to Florida Supreme Court
December 5, 2000
Bush attorneys argue against manual recounts before federal judges in Atlanta
December 5, 2000

Florida State Courts
Florida Southern District Court
Electoral College
Volusia County government
Palm Beach County government

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