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Election 2000

Election 2k

Observers Say Ballots
Manipulated By Examiner

By Steve Miller
The Washington Times
November 16, 2000

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Five observers to Saturday's hand count in Palm Beach County have filed affidavits in federal court charging that a Democratic county commissioner manipulated ballots so Al Gore would receive more votes than George W. Bush.

Carol Roberts, a de facto appointee to the three-member elections canvassing board, is accused in the filings of asking a Democratic observer to the count whether ballots should count and that she "twisted the ballots and poked her finger directly in sections of, and aggressively handled, the ballots."

On one occasion, observer John Grotta said in a sworn statement, Miss Roberts looked at a ballot and said " 'Unfortunately, the corners aren't detached,' as she was referring to a ballot that would have been a vote for Vice President Gore."

The most pointed charges in the affidavits were cited in a request by the Palm Beach Republican Party that Miss Roberts, a longtime Democrat, step down from the board because of her partisan behavior in last week's sample count of 4,600 ballots.

When the count found that Mr. Gore netted 19 more votes, Miss Roberts was adamant about a full recount, asserting that Mr. Gore could claim as many as 1,900 more votes based on the sampling.

Miss Roberts refused to remove herself from the panel, saying in a public statement — read by canvassing board chairman Charles Burton to a press gallery that is now an encampment outside the Emergency Operation Center here — that the count was done "in full view of public observers from both parties and cameras from all over the world.

"All board members examined and voted on all questioned ballots and nearly all votes were unanimous. . . I will continue to be fair and impartial and will not recuse myself."

Yesterday, Miss Roberts publicly challenged the election powers of Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican, in the recount dispute, saying Attorney General Robert Butterworth, a Democrat, had the proper authority. Mrs. Harris has been the target of Democrats, who claim she is partisan and must recuse herself.

The partisan rancor has completely divided the sides in the manual recount debate. Palm County's hand count was delayed yesterday pending the state Supreme Court's opinion on the legal standing of the process.

The charge against Miss Roberts "is not a witch hunt," said Mark Hoch, administrator for the county's Republican Party.

"We have complaints coming out of the woodwork, and most of the things we look at are unsubstantiated," Mr. Hoch said. "Carol Roberts, though, can be seen as truly partisan."

Miss Roberts arrived at the emergency center around 6:15 a.m. yesterday with a sheriff's deputy bodyguard and a personal assistant. As a vocal advocate of the manual count in both Palm Beach County and three other surrounding — and Democrat-dominated —counties, Miss Roberts has thrived on the controversy surrounding the recount.

At one point this week, Miss Roberts said she would go to jail to have the manual recount accomplished. In Palm Beach County, recounts by hand and machine have added 787 votes for Mr. Gore to an extra 119 for Mr. Bush — a net Gore pick up of 668.

The affidavits filed yesterday also include charges that elections workers were reluctant to reassess votes despite the protests of observers.

In one case, a worker refused to recount a stack of ballots that contained Bush votes, according to observer Mark Klimer.

Mr. Klimer's statement included the accusation that Miss Roberts picked up ballots from a stack that was to be evaluated later by the entire board and interspersed them with a stack of Gore votes.

He also said the ballot evaluation was inconsistent. Some ballots judged as Gore votes did not meet the agreed standards for a valid vote, the West Palm Beach banker said.

Mr. Klimer said yesterday he was in the counting room for 4 and 1/2 hours on Saturday. A Republican, Mr. Klimer said his interest was not partisan: "I was there to make sure it was fair."

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt, what I saw is the absolute truth," Mr. Klimer said.

Miss Roberts is one of three Democrats on the seven-member County Commission. She was elected in 1986 after serving 11 years on the West Palm Beach City Council.

When she became president of the Florida Association of Counties in 1996, Miss Roberts took some heat for marking the occasion with three days of festivities paid for with $55,000 from her business friends.

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