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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Revote Request a Step Closer to High Court

Law: Florida justices to consider hearing Democratic voters' lawsuit, which demands a new election in Palm Beach County over 'butterfly ballots.'

November 28, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court agreed Monday to review arguments on whether it should consider a lawsuit seeking a second presidential election in Palm Beach County.

The state's high court told lawyers handling the case to file papers by 5 p.m. today on "all issues in this case, including why this court should exercise its discretion" to hear it.

If the Supreme Court takes the case, it would add yet another layer of uncertainty to the outcome of Florida's chaotic presidential election.

A group of Palm Beach County Democrats is seeking a revote in the presidential election there.

They say the county's confusing "butterfly ballot" led thousands of county residents to vote mistakenly for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Vice President Al Gore.

The Democrats say the ballot with a vertical row of punch holes dividing two lists of candidates also may have led more than 19,000 others to nullify their votes by unwittingly choosing two presidential contenders.

"I got snookered," said Andre Fladell, a Delray Beach chiropractor who is one of those suing for a revote. "It's supposed to be a fair vote."

A three-judge panel of Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal had been scheduled to hold a hearing Monday on the voters' appeal of a Nov. 20 ruling by Circuit Court Judge Jorge Labarga, who found he had no authority to order a revote.

But the appellate judges canceled the hearing and referred the case directly to the state's high court. They cited the certification of statewide election results on Sunday night by Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

"Because of the vote certification last night, the justices decided that this was a matter of extreme public interest, and have certified the matter to the Supreme Court of Florida," said court marshal Glen Rubin.

Lawyers seeking the revote acknowledged they face a tough battle and a looming deadline of Dec. 12, when Florida's electoral college slate must be finalized. Even so, attorney Gary Farmer, who represents the plaintiffs, said the Democratic voters intend to press their case.

"There is time to make this happen," Farmer said outside the West Palm Beach courthouse. "We need to stop delaying, however."

But Mark F. Bideau, a lawyer for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, said Labarga was correct to deny the request for a revote. Under the U.S. Constitution, he said, the presidential election is held on one day every four years, and courts do not have the authority to change that.

"There's no basis legally to do a revote in a presidential election," Bideau said.

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