YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Got a Complaint? Take a Number

Democrats: Disgruntled voters flood 'intake centers,' where the party, preparing for legal battle, is collecting notarized statements about balloting.


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — They came from all directions, in wheelchairs, minivans and pink Cadillacs, some with walkers, some with home health care nurses, some with scowling spouses on their arms.

They gave up a Sunday afternoon in this paradise--80-degree temperatures and clear blue skies--to wait in line at a strip mall.

Their mission: Get Democrat Al Gore the presidency. Their destination: the "intake center."

As legal battles loom and complex strategies are mapped out in offices in the state capital, Tallahassee, and Washington, a growing number of disgruntled voters--many of them senior citizens--are streaming in to intake centers in Palm Beach County to lodge complaints about the voting process. You've already heard most of them: poorly designed ballots that led people to vote for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan when they intended to vote for Vice President Gore; unhelpful poll workers; misaligned voting machines.

The Gore campaign is trying to log each and every complaint, should the recount effort now underway fail and Democrats need to make their case in court. That's where the heart of their grass-roots energy is going: to a massive, countywide affidavit drive. The intake centers also are serving to bring Democrats together and to keep their optimism up.

On Sunday, at the Delray Beach center--one of three in Palm Beach County--a team of local Democratic volunteers and imports guided more than 1,500 voters through the affidavit process. There was a bit of a culture clash between the mostly young, frenzied, beeper-clad campaign staffers who had jetted in during the week and the throngs of more deliberate-moving seniors who live here.

Before anything could get accomplished, there were questions to be answered.

"What does cell mean?" asked Estelle Berlin, a 79-year-old retiree, as she stared at a line on the "election day problem and complaint form." The space referred to cellular phone number.

"Hey, hey, hey--what do you call that 'butterfly' thing that screwed everybody up?" blurted another voter, opening and closing his hands as if reading a prayer book.

"A ballot?" one volunteer answered.

"Yeah, yeah--that's the word."

After initial issues were cleared up, voters were steered to a cluster of folding tables to complete their affidavits. Most signed a short form simply saying they had punched a hole on the ballot for Buchanan when they meant to designate Gore.

Others who launched into more breathless tales of intrigue and confusion were asked to write down--in neat print, please--a fuller account of their voting problems. Honesty was the top priority, lawyer Steve Bachar said.

"We have to be very careful not to undermine our case by overstating what happened at the polls," Bachar explained.

Gore officials had called Bachar, a 35-year-old lawyer from Denver, on Wednesday to fly to West Palm Beach to oversee the affidavit process. He was one of a number of Democratic operatives dispatched the moment irregularities surfaced.

"I was just standing in the rain in Nashville, thinking Gore had lost, when I got the call to rush down to Palm Beach," said Dan Pfeiffer, who had been a communications officer during the campaign.

A few feet from where Pfeiffer was standing, in a nice square of Florida sunshine, voters massed at a table to have their statements stamped and notarized. That way, the handwritten statements can be used in court. Some of the elderly citizens needed help walking from table to table.

"I'm so angry, I could kick somebody," said Berlin, who uses a cane.

By day's end, Democratic organizers had a 3-inch-tall stack of affidavits, bringing the total gathered so far to nearly 10,000.

"This is like the epicenter of the whole recount," said Chicago lawyer Enrico Miravelli, who flew down to help gather affidavits. "This place is hot. You can feel it." Miravelli explained that the intake centers were just part of a network of Democratic operations across the state, with strategic headquarters in Tallahassee, where the Florida division of elections is located. Many of the makeshift centers, like the one in Delray Beach, are housed in former local campaign headquarters.

Although there were flashes of optimism at the intake center--snippets of conversation about Gore finding a way to win--the prevailing emotion was one of anger.

"We knew these ballots were confusing from the moment we saw them," said Adele Kaserman, a 75-year-old Delray Beach resident. "You should have seen it Tuesday at the polls. It was bedlam."

Los Angeles Times Articles