ATLANTA — An appeals court on Monday agreed with a federal judge who refused to throw out 2,400 of Florida's overseas ballots, mostly from military personnel, because they arrived after election day.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the ruling by U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul in Gainesville, Fla., was consistent with recent comments by Florida's highest court about the workings of the absentee ballot law.
The lawsuit brought by Democratic voters sought to eliminate enough ballots to change the election results in Vice President Al Gore's favor.
Gore's GOP rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, led by less than 200 votes as election challenges continued in the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere Monday.
"While Florida law seems to favor counting ballots, this change would take away the votes of thousands of Florida citizens--including members of America's armed forces on duty outside of the country pursuant to the nation's orders--who, to cast their ballots, just did what they were told by Florida's election officials," the appeals court said.
The appeals court rejected the claims of lawyers representing 13 individual Democratic voters whose lawsuits were combined before Paul.
The lawsuits claimed that state and federal laws, along with the U.S. Constitution, require all ballots to be received by the close of the polls on election day.
Roger Bernstein, a New York lawyer for the voters, said an appeal was likely.
"The decision seems inconsistent with the enacted laws of Florida," he said.
Joseph Klock Jr., lawyer for Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, said he had been optimistic about the case. "It's just outrageous for someone to suggest that the ballots of overseas military . . . are going to be disallowed." he said.