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Florida circuit judge rules new election not legal
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- A Florida circuit judge ruled Monday he lacks the authority to order a fresh presidential election in Palm Beach County, even if evidence shows that the "butterfly ballot" used on November 7 was confusing to voters.
"Given the absence of legal authority and reasoning, it is not possible for a new election," Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga ruled.
He threw out several voter lawsuits saying the requested remedy - a revote - is not allowed by the law. He said there was no need to hear arguments on voters' confusion and mistaken voting because of the ballot format.
"It is legally unnecessary to conduct an evidentiary hearing regarding the events that led to the allegations of ballot confusion and the deprivation of the right to vote," Labarga wrote.
"Clearly, a great number of patriotic and deeply concerned citizens of Palm Beach County fear they may have unwittingly cast their vote for someone other than their candidate," Labarga wrote in his 17-page ruling.
"While some may dismiss such concerns without a second thought, this Court is well aware that the right to vote is as precious as life itself to those who have been victimized by the horror of war, to those whose not -too-distant relatives were prohibited from exercising the right to vote simply because of their race or gender, and to those who have risked it all by venturing across an unforgiving sea in makeshift rafts or boats in order to one day exercise the right to vote," he wrote.
"However, for over two centuries we have agreed to a Constitution and to live by the law," he continued. Labarga cited the Constitution's provision that Congress may determine the time of elections and noted that Congress set the election date "on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November every four years."
He went on to say, "Given the uniqueness of presidential elections and undue advantage a revote or new election may afford one candidate over the others, it was the clear and unambiguous intention of the framers of the Constitution of the United States that presidential elections be held on a single day throughout the United States."
For those reasons, he wrote, "it is not legally possible to have a revote or a new election for presidential electors in Florida."
Labarga noted that the court "has made no determination as to the factual validity of the plaintiffs' claim."
Sixty-six of 67 Florida counties followed the ballot format recommended by state law in which the names of the candidates are in one column, according to Jon Mills, interim dean of the University of Florida law school and former speaker of the state House of Representatives.
But the Palm Beach ballot, used in previous elections, carried the names beside each other. Many voters in the Democratic stronghold alleged that arrangement caused them to mistakenly vote for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan instead of Democrat Al Gore or double punch the ballot. They sued seeking a revote, alleging that the "butterfly ballot" was illegal.
The voters' lawyers promised a quick appeal, saying they wanted to go forward with the trial to determine the legality of the ballot.
Labarga heard from a parade of attorneys Friday representing the Bush and Gore camps, Palm Beach County election supervisor Theresa LePore, individual voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Attorneys favoring a new vote argued that the Constitution gives states authority over elections. They said the Florida Supreme Court ruled in the 1998 case, Beckstrom v. Volusia County Canvassing Board, that an election could be overturned if there is "reasonable doubt" that the results reflect the will of the people. They said the problem with the butterfly ballot created that doubt.
"We feel that the act of approving the ballot which was utilized in Palm Beach County was unlawful in the sense that if violates a number of Florida statutes," plaintiffs attorney Greg Farmer said.
Bush attorney Barry Richard said this dispute did not belong in the courts at all.
"There is only one body, by law, that can decide this, and that is the Florida legislature," he said.
He said the legislature could hold a special election or lawmakers could chose the electors themselves, which would have the effect of disenfranchising the voters of Palm Beach County, and the entire state of Florida.
Also Monday, Seminole County, Florida, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the validity of thousands of absentee votes cast in the largely Republican jurisdiction.
Harry Jacobs, a local Democrat, sued on Friday alleging that the elections supervisor violated state law. Jacobs alleged that the supervisor allowed Republican Party workers to add missing voter registration numbers to 4,700 absentee ballot applications that had been rejected prior to the election.
Republican Gov. George W. Bush of Texas won about 10,000 votes in Seminole County, compared to Gore's 5,000.
The judge set a hearing November 27.
Florida judge considers constitutionality of new vote
Florida State Courts
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