Dems denied  hand count in Duval Co.- Nov 22

                                             by   Michael Hammerschlag                                                                   In  Nov 25 Capital Times, Madison WI


The sample ballot in Duval County (Jacksonville) in Florida was deceptive and different than the real one, according to Gore NE FL campaign chairman Mike Langton. “The instructions of the sample ballot from the supervisor of elections was to ‘Vote all pages’ - step # 4”, said Langton. The sample ballot (which we received) that appeared as an insert in the Sunday Jacksonville Times-Union says that; it also shows all presidential candidates on one page. The actual ballot, however, spreads the 10 presidential candidates onto 2 pages- if one votes every page, they will vote for president twice (overvote) and invalidate their ballot. A stunning 22,000 people did that in Duval Co., more than in Palm Beach (with 69% more voters) with the notorious butterfly ballot; altogether some 27,000 ballots were rejected in Duval, 9% of the total.


“They were primarily (about half) in the black community that went  80-95% for Gore,” said Langton, “Statewide, there were 184,000 overvotes and undervotes, which is an astronomical number.”  In the 1996 election there were only 7800 total votes rejected in Duval: since overvotes are usually rarer than undervotes (no candidate selected), this election had  6 1/2 times more overvotes; the total voided increase was 3 1/2 times. There was another unusual result: 5000 Duval people voted for Senate, but didn’t vote for President- usually the top of the ticket is the biggest vote-getter, an indicator of hanging chad on the punch cards.


“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, because if you make print so small that you can get it all on one page, then people complain they can’t read the card,” said Robert Phillips, Duval election operations mngr. “On the bottom of the page it said, ‘TURN THE PAGE FOR CONTINUED LIST OF CANDIDATES FOR PRESIDENT’.” The second page did contain 5 obscure Pres. tickets that few voters would have even heard of.


Langton claims he was given no information about the rejected ballots by election supervisor John Stafford, a Republican. “The report they gave us didn’t have anything about over and undervotes. Nobody on either side had any understanding and he didn’t tell anybody... and I didn’t think to ask”  During the state-mandated machine recount on Nov 8th in the elections office, Langton was distracted. “They had surfaced 200 more votes, 164 (net) more for Gore... so I was on cloud nine, thinking, Oh my God, we picked up all these votes, so I wasn’t focused at all on that (rejected votes).”


“The next day (Thur Nov 9).. between 12 and 1pm.. I went back with our lawyer, Leslie Goller, and asked Stafford, ‘John, how many ballots were rejected for under and overvoting.’ And he said: ‘Oh not very many, perhaps between 200 and 300.’  I said, “When can I get accurate numbers?” and he said he couldn’t do it today and tomorrow is a federal holiday (Veterans) so, ‘I’ll have to get them to you on Monday’. John Stafford’s a nice man, I took him at his word as a Southern gentleman.”


Goller confirms hearing Stafford say he didn’t have a number, but “there were not very many.”  Robert Phillips, Duval election operations mngr, admitted that the election result “were certified Thursday”.


On Friday (Nov 9) Langton was stunned by a phone call at 6:00 pm from a local reporter, “He tells me there are 27,000 rejected ballots and I about had a heart attack. I reached the Gore campaign in Tallahassee.. we were under the impression we had until midnight to request a hand recount (72 hr limit). We would have had to go through such logistics- of writing the petition, getting it to our state chairman in Orlando.. get it to me (in Jacksonville), and me find John Stafford and present it before midnight.. so they made the decision- they didn’t like it- to not go forward.” It’s also possible Dem leaders were reluctant to press for a hand recount in a county that had a 3:2 Repub advantage. Stafford could not be reached for comment.


The results, Bush 152,416,... Gore 108,015  would stand in Duval County, with the worst anomalies in the state.


“It was clear what I was asking,” gripes Langton. “They have said.. that his response of 200 to 300 was the number of additional votes that were captured (in recount), well, Hell, I was there for 8 hours- I knew there was 200 extra votes- I wouldn’t have been asking that question.” Phillips says they were responding to how many absentee ballots were rejected because that’s what Langton was studying when he asked, yet a third explanation, but this was long before the absentee ballots took center stage and Langton denied it.


On Nov 17, the New York Times ran a front page story about the Duval overvotes, claiming stupid Democratic “Get Out the Vote” workers instructed people to “vote every page”, but they failed to mention that that was what the sample ballot instructed. They described the tale of a seemingly illiterate black woman who spoiled one ballot, then just punched any hole because she couldn’t get any help or directions. “I don’t buy the mantra of the Republican Party, which is ‘Democrats are dumb’… which I find offensive,” said Langton.


“I hope to God I don’t get called before Congress,” chuckled Phillips.




Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries for Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser, Moscow News, Tribune, + Guardian;  was a TV reporter and produced a documentary series on Presidential primary campaign. He’s written the definitive story of how the networks got it wrong in “Whoops”.