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Butterfly ballot challengers head back to court today

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Palm Beach County voters who say they were confused by the county's so-called butterfly ballot will return to court Monday for a second bid to get a new, countywide presidential election.

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George W. Bush, saying he has won the presidency, addresses the nation from Austin, Texas (November 26)

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Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman responds to Florida's vote certification (November 26)

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A three-judge panel of Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal will hear the case, which comes a day after Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified the state's vote count and declared Republican George W. Bush the winner of Florida.

No fewer than seven lawsuits seek a re-vote in Palm Beach County.

The plaintiffs argue the layout of the butterfly ballot was confusing, making it hard to determine for which person one was casting a vote. The lawsuits contend a new election is the best way to determine the intent of voters who may have mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Gore.

One week ago, Circuit Court Judge Jorge Labarga ruled that a re-vote was unconstitutional.

Labarga said the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to set the times of presidential elections. He said Congress had exercised that power, setting the elections "on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November."

The statute was "clear and unambiguous," Labarga ruled.

But attorneys and supporters of voter Andre Fladell -- the lead plantiff in the claim -- say a re-vote is the appropriate remedy to redress a ballot they say was illegal.

"Nothing in federal or state law...precludes the judicial branch from crafting an appropriate remedy," the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a brief filed with the court.

The appeals court has set aside one hour for oral arguments, beginning 11 a.m. EST Monday. The case will be heard by Chief Judge Martha C. Warner and judges Carole Taylor and Larry A. Klein.

The appellate judges have asked lawyers to discuss whether the case belongs elsewhere. A state law gives jurisdiction over elections cases to Leon County, home of Tallahassee, the state capital, if an election covers more than one county, the judges noted.

Plaintiff's attorney, Howard Weiss, said the case belongs in Palm Beach County.

"It's a situation that is unique to Palm Beach County," Weiss said, noting that Palm Beach County was the only Florida county to use the butterfly ballot.

Regardless of which county has jurisdiction, Weiss predicted the case ultimately will wind up in the state's Supreme Court like other cases involving the disputed 2000 presidential election.


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Monday, November 27, 2000

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