The Absentee Ballots: Gore's Nukes Land With a Thud

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Florida State Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters announces today's decision

The U.S. Supreme Court is now all alone on Al Gore's whiteboard. In its first non-bombshell decision in weeks, the Florida Supreme Court announced Tuesday at 4:30 that Al Gore's two nukes — the absentee-ballot application cases in Seminole County and Martin County — were officially duds.

Delivering the news, as always, was court spokesman Craig Waters, who read a statement explaining that while the court recognized irregularities in the actions of the Republican defendants, there wasn't going to be any tossing out of 25,000 ballots because two supervisors of elections had allowed GOP staffers to add missing information to some misprinted applications.

The two cases had been together from the beginning. They shared not only the essential issues but most of the Bush legal team, and the basic facts in both were never in dispute: Two Republican supervisors of elections had allowed Republican party workers access to two stacks of absentee ballot applications, in order to fill in voter ID numbers — left off the forms in a printing error — and save the applications from the trash.

This was in violation of a 1998 anti-fraud law naming the voter ID numbers as one of nine pieces of information that had to be filled in by the voter or his family. Republicans called the supervisors' questionable behavior a "hypertechnicality." Democrats called it a political conspiracy.

But the Democratic lawyers — unaffiliated with a Gore camp fearful of the p.r. ironies of a throw-out-the-vote remedy — had never been able to prove what the veep claimed a week ago: That Democrats "were denied an opportunity to come in, denied a chance to even look at the applications and those applications were thrown out."

Throwing out the ballots didn't seem fair to either of the two Leon County circuit court judges who heard the cases, and overturning their decisions didn't seem fair to the Florida Supreme Court.

The Gore camp's whispered reply Tuesday was only that they hadn't joined the cases, remember, and that this was one more reason for the Florida Senate to hold off on the job of ratifying Bush electors on Wednesday.

And then they went back to waiting for the Supremes.