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Report: GOP pressured Florida to accept flawed ballots

Florida counted 2,490 overseas ballots as legal votes in the 2000 presidential election
Florida counted 2,490 overseas ballots as legal votes in the 2000 presidential election  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- As votes were counted and recounted in Florida following the presidential election last November, state elections officials were pressured by Republicans to accept hundreds of overseas absentee ballots that didn't comply with state election laws, the New York Times reported on its Web site in an article to be published Sunday.

The newspaper also reported that an expert on voting patterns and statistical models estimated that if the flawed ballots had been thrown out, Bush still would have won, although his margin would have been reduced to 245 votes.

The White House dismissed the significance of the article.

"The election was decided by the voters of Florida a long time ago," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said in a statement. "And the nation, the president and all but the most partisan Americans have moved on."

A six-month investigation into the overseas absentee ballots by the newspaper concluded that the Republican effort to get questionable ballots accepted had a "decided impact on the outcome," the newspaper said. George W. Bush won the presidency by 537 votes.

The newspaper analyzed 2,490 overseas absentee ballots that were counted as legal votes after the general election, November 7, 2000. It found 680 questionable votes: "ballots without postmarks, ballots postmarked after the election, ballots without witness signatures, ballots mailed from towns and cities within the United States and even ballots from voters who voted twice. All would have been disqualified had the state's election laws been strictly enforced," the article said.

The newspaper said it is not known for whom the flawed ballots were cast, but that "four out of five were accepted in counties carried by Mr. Bush."

But Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, Gore's running mate, said the focus should be on ensuring election run smoothly in the future.

"The election is over; it's history," Lieberman said. "I think one of the things that we have to focus on is to pass election law reform so what happened last year doesn't happen anywhere else in America again," he said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

Jennifer Palmieri, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Party, said the findings were no surprise.

"The story reinforces the perception that members of the Bush team believe the rules don't apply to them and could explain why the Bush administration has shown no real interest in pursuing the type of electoral reform we need to insure that the sacred right of every citizen to vote and have that vote counted is protected," she said.

A Democratic party official, who did not want to be identified, agreed.

"The story contains damaging new evidence about destroyed official documents, improper and inappropriate coordination post-Election Day between members of the Bush campaign and Republican members of Congress and the Pentagon over private contact information, and the use of selected standards by Republican operatives to illegally count votes that would increase the Bush totals while disqualifying the votes for Gore," the official said.

The newspaper's investigation found no evidence of fraud by either party in the overseas absentee ballot matter. But it noted that veteran Republican political consultants mounted a "war room" within the offices of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican herself who was active in Bush's Florida campaign.

"In Washington, senior Bush campaign officials urged the Pentagon to accelerate the collection and delivery of military ballots, and indeed ballots arrived more quickly than in previous elections. Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee helped the campaign obtain private contact information for military voters," the article said.

The newspaper found that counties carried by Gore only accepted two in 10 ballots that did not show they were mailed on or before Election Day. The same kind of ballots were accepted in six out of 10 cases in counties carried by Bush. It said Bush counties were also four times more likely as Gore counties to count ballots that had no witness signatures and addresses.

• Florida Division of Elections

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