Dems Call Fla. Voters About Ballots
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - One minute, the wood-paneled 10th floor conference room at Lytal, Reiter, Clark, Fountain & Williams was a simple get-out-the-vote center.
But in the blink of an eye Tuesday, the tables turned, and concerned voters were calling in, frantically questioning whether they'd mistakenly voted for the wrong presidential candidate.
``I'll tell you the first day, it was absolutely unreal,'' said Democratic Party volunteer Kristie Clegg, who fielded some of the estimated 5,000 calls that came in to the law firm Tuesday. ``I was shell-shocked, because I couldn't even hang up the phone. It was absolute pandemonium.''
Faced with a cliffhanger election, the Democratic Party directed a telemarketing firm on election night to begin calling thousands of voters in Palm Beach. The mission: To raise questions about a disputed ballot and urge voters to contact local election officials.
The Democratic National Committee paid Texas-based TeleQuest to make the calls - while polls were still open - alerting voters in the heavily Democratic enclave in Florida of possible confusion with the ballots they cast.
Wade Scott, an account manager with TeleQuest, said Democratic officials contacted his company shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday to make the calls.
With only an hour to go before Florida polls closed, his company mobilized all of its telemarketers to make some 5,000 calls in less than 45 minutes, Scott said.
"It was a very short burst of calling for our industry,'' he said. Only about 100 of the voters in Palm Beach it contacted hadn't voted, and about 2,400 felt they may have made a mistake on the ballot, he said.
The script for the call read:
The callers took the names and phone numbers of voters who said they may have cast an errant ballot, and gave them to the Democratic Party.
If voters were about to go to the polls, the script called for the caller to instruct them to ``be sure to punch Number 5 for Gore-Lieberman'' and ``do NOT punch any other number, as you might end up voting for someone else by mistake.''
``Once we were informed by local news accounts of the magnitude of the problem with confusion about the ballot, we shifted our scripts to make sure that people who were voting were aware of the questions and confusion around the ballot,'' said DNC spokeswoman Jenny Backus.
The maneuver indicates that long before Americans awoke to the reality of the Florida ballot dispute, Democrats were already mobilizing voters there. The concern has focused on Palm Beach, where about 30,000 ballots were disqualified and hundreds of voters have said they mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan while trying to cast their ballot for Democrat Al Gore.
Within hours of the phone campaign, hundreds of Democratic voters had called election officials in Palm Beach to complain they may have been confused by the ballot and voted for the wrong candidate. Some voters also have filed lawsuits seeking a new vote.
The outcome of the dispute is key because George W. Bush is leading Gore by a mere 327 votes after a statewide recount, according to an unofficial Associated Press canvass. The winner of Florida will lay claim to the electoral votes needed to become the nation's 43rd president.
The calls indicate that Democrats were concerned about Palm Beach problems even before they knew Florida's vote would end in a razor-thin margin, said American University political science professor Candice Nelson.
``To the extent there have been accusations that Democrats didn't cry foul until they realized Wednesday that Bush may have won, this cuts the other way,'' she said.
Nelson and other political and legal experts said the calls were perfectly legal but could have contributed to what appeared to most Americans to be a spontaneous explosion of concern in Florida the morning after the election.