As Al Gore's Seminole County nuclear bomb rolled into the witness phase Wednesday of what Judge Nikki Clark says will be a one-day trial, the basic facts were not in dispute.
County Elections Supervisor Sandy Goard, a Republican, allowed Republican staffers to add voter ID numbers to some 2,130 absentee ballot applications, most from registered Republicans, and 1,932 of those resulted in a vote. A state anti-fraud law requires that absentee ballot applications include nine pieces of information from voters, including voter ID numbers. Technically, then, 1,932 votes most of them presumably cast for George W. Bush are invalid.
Only a "hypertechnicality"?
The question for Judge Clark, then, is whether the punishment that the Democratic-activist plaintiff wants either toss out all 15,000 of the county's absentee ballots or come up with some statistically derived alternative in that 1,900 neighborhood fits the crime.
Republicans, with Terry C. Young defending Goard and Barry Richard and Daryl Bristow representing Bush (while doing double duty between this case and the roughly equivalent Martin County case down the hall), say it's a "hypertechnicality." The applications, because of a printing error, did not include a space for voter ID. The addition of the needed information in no way touched on the integrity of the ballots themselves. Goard's action merely facilitated voting, say the Bush lawyers, and not one Democratic application (which did not have the printing error) was tossed for missing the voter ID number. Is the disenfranchisement of thousands really the right remedy for that?
The Democrats, with Gerald Richman representing both the plaintiff and Al Gore's hopes for a thunderbolt victory, say it's the only remedy. And that's their problem convincing Clark to throw the presidential election to Gore by throwing away votes.
Gore weighs in
The plaintiff's case got a good p.r. billing from Gore himself Tuesday "The Democrats were denied an opportunity to come in, denied a chance to even look at the applications, and those applications were thrown out," he said. And that could be the pivotal issue: whether or not Republicans got favors from Goard that Democrats didn't.
Goard lawyer Young claimed in his opening statement that he would demonstrate that "no Democratic applications were incomplete and voided." Richman claimed just the opposite. But the burden of proof is on the Democrats to prove that some nefarious inequity took place and "adversely affected the sanctity of the election," as Clark herself put it early Wednesday morning.
But by the time the lunchtime recess rolled around at 12:30, more than five hours into the trial, Richman had called three witnesses and been admonished once by Clark for wasting the court's precious time. And if he had an unfairness-to-Democrats trump card that could persuade Clark to throw Seminole County's 15,000 absentee-ballot babies out with the bathwater, he hadn't played it yet.
Another alternate remedy
And after a low-level lawyer sat down at the witness stand and read excerpts of Goard's deposition, any such card was still way up Richman's sleeve. Goard testified that Democrat applications did not have the missing space for the voter-ID number, and that no Democratic staffers had asked for the same assistance with the forms that she gave Republicans.
Witness begat witness. The statistician for the plaintiff offered Clark an "alternate remedy" of 1,500-1,800 tossed votes, in case it was the "all" that bothered her about tarshing absentee ballots.
At 7 p.m., Judge Clark had had enough for the night. Closing statements will start at 1 p.m. Wednesday (Barry Richard asked for the delay he's got a date with the Florida Supremes in the morning). A one-day trial has become two, and Al Gore will find out perhaps Thursday how badly he needs the Florida high court to help him with its ruling, probably due Friday.