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Butterfly Ballot Blues

Locals weigh in on the Palm Beach recount.


by David Evanier

November 16, 2000 | 7:00 pm

Politicos and machers who had given heart and soul (and a lot of cash, in some cases) to their respective candidates saw conspiracy, fraud or betrayal in the ballot crisis in Florida this week. Feeling ran strong, but no one was willing to predict whether Bush or Gore would turn out to be president.

Conservative author and commentator David Horowitz maintains that there is no accurate electoral count in any precinct in America. "But there is a legitimate count," he says. "That legitimate count is like a little bridge over the Hobbesian abyss, in that it allows us to have a peaceful transition to the next administration and to confer legitimacy on that administration. What Gore has done is that by subverting that tradition, or convention, he's opened the election to mob rule. It's the most irresponsible and destructive act I've seen by a national political figure on the domestic front in my lifetime."

Dennis Prager, nationally syndicated talk show host who recently switched stations to KIEV, is equally pessimistic. "I can only echo The New York Times and The Washington Post editorial pages that maintained this week that Gore has poisoned the American democratic processes by going to litigation. I believe the Democratic Party has decided it will use the courts rather than the democratic process to further its beliefs. Wherever possible, judges are used rather than the vote count. I think dragging this on is very dangerous."

For the machers who gave their financial support to Gore and Bush, there is an uncharacteristic feeling of uncertainty: In the end, it wasn't the people with all the money or all the power who got to decide this election. "I was in Nashville as the results came in," says Richard Ziman, a major player in the campaign and chairman of the board of Arden Realty, Inc. "People were hysterical; couldn't believe the results. You felt there was a complete electoral system breakdown." Ziman believes that "the longer the situation drags on, the worse it is for this country and the world."

He wants a resolution. "My personal opinion is that if they decide to do the hand count, do it; if they decide not, don't do it. And wait for the absentee ballots to come in by midnight on Friday. And the winner should be declared, but more importantly the loser should concede. Even if Gore loses. And I'm a longtime liberal Democrat."

As to the butterfly Palm Beach ballot, Ziman comments: "I have not heard anyone say it was done on purpose or with ill will. It's a mistake. And you know what? That's the way it goes. If it's unfair, I'm sorry. Address that the next time around. But don't upset the whole election."

Mel Levine, a partner in Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, an L.A.-based international law firm, has been one of the leading figures in the California Gore campaign, chair of his Middle East committee and both a financial contributor and fundraiser. He agrees with Ziman that the Palm Beach County ballot "was a fluke. But it feels awful. I feel very drained. Some comedian who may have been right said that in Palm Beach, Yasser Arafat would have received more votes than Pat Buchanan. The idea that you would have close to 3,500 people voting for Buchanan when the second largest county in Florida had a thousand people voting for him is outrageous, absurd and exasperating." Nevertheless, Levine sees no demons in the woodwork.

"We just want a fair and accurate account," he contends. "And if at all possible, ensuring that people's votes count the way they intended them to count."

Steve Kass, a private investor, chair of the Bush for President volunteer organization in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and a member of the California steering committee for Bush, is far less sanguine about events. He says Bush has already won under the law, but questions what will happen if the election is taken out of the electoral process law and placed into a state court that is for the most part controlled by Democratic judges. "It is not unheard of for politics to be camouflaged in the face of law, and the results would be devastating."

"It's a horrible thing we're going through," says Republican activist Bruce Bialosky. "This bickering and partisanship, the questioning of everybody's integrity: it brings down the whole moral character of the country. The Gore campaign should have stopped after the recount."

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky thinks a hand recount in Florida is legitimate and that the Bush campaign's efforts to stop it are ill-advised. "If the Republicans want to recount all the ballots in Florida, by all means they should. Every ballot where there's a vote cast ought to be counted. That's what you do in a close election."

On the issue of the Palm Beach ballot, Yaroslavsky also feels there are no ethical issues at stake. "Part of what's expected of you when you vote is that you know what you're doing," he says. "I don't think you can call a new election. "

While neither macher nor politician, L.A. lawyer Jon Drucker has made a difference in the ballot war in Florida. He was one of those responsible for bringing about the preliminary injunction in Palm Beach county that prohibited the county from certifying the results of the election until the next hearing.

"First I saw this lady, Zorna Orenstein, a classic Yiddishe mama in Palm Beach, saying on TV: 'I was confused. I wanna vote again,' I thought obviously she was not going to be aware of the legal ramifications of being confused. So I went online to see what could be done. I researched the Florida election law and then I wrote this detailed outline of a brief supporting a temporary restraining order and a re-vote in that county. I e-mailed it to the lawyer in Florida who had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a handful of voters in the county."

Drucker contends that he had discovered that the ballot was illegally arranged as prescribed by the election statutory law, creating "utter confusion among the electorate, and some 20,000 votes being nullified. I thought if the vote was certified as it was, it would not reflect the will of voters in Palm Beach."

It is likely that as the electoral drama plays on, creating frustration and suspense, Drucker and his fellow lawyers are among the few who will be able to find a voice in this new twist on the democratic process.

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