Alan David never gave his ballots a second thought after voting in dozens of presidential elections during the decades he lived in New York.
Then, after moving here two years ago, he voted in Palm Beach County for the first time last week."I looked at the ballot and said, 'What the heck is this?'" recalled David, who lives in the Century Village community of West Palm Beach. "I voted, but I don't know what I voted. It was so confusing."David isn't the only Palm Beacher who left the polls on Election Day unsure if his vote helped or hurt his candidate, Al Gore.
Even before the polls closed, voters were flooding the state's elections department with angry calls, demanding recounts and even re-votes as many realized they may have voted for the wrong candidate.Now, as the nation awaits the outcome of the legal wrangling and the vote recounts, residents of this heavily Jewish region of South Florida are not only questioning their vote, they are angry at the way they are being portrayed in the media as older, confused citizens.
Ed Lewis, who lives at the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club in Boynton Beach, said he carefully studied the sample ballot he received in the mail before the election and mapped out his votes. So he was shocked when he arrived at the voting booths and couldn't understand the ballot.
"Even though I'm 66, I'm very bright," he said. "I voted correctly, but I had to spend at least 20 seconds or more reading the ballot. There is no question in my mind there was a problem with the ballot."The confusion for many stemmed from the way the ballot was structured, with the proximity of Gore's name to the punch hole designated for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan apparently causing many Gore supporters to vote for Buchanan accidentally.
Sheila and Ed Levins of Boca Raton had volunteered to help run the polls at the Kings Point community in Delray Beach, where some of the worst confusion has been reported.
Sheila Levins said many people dissolved into tears after leaving the voting booths there.
"This was very upsetting. People started crying, saying, 'I voted for Buchanan,'" she said. "I think it's a terrible disgrace. Somebody has to stand up somewhere about this. I'm an optimist; I believe the truth will come out."
Some people at Kings Point realized they had made a mistake and asked the site's supervisor for help, Ed Levins said, adding that tempers flared when the supervisor told them there was nothing that could be done."I really feel for these people. They find out they voted for the wrong person and nothing can be done," he said.
"Quite a few of the older men who came to vote were so proud that they were wearing their medals and combat ribbons that they earned during World War II," he said. "They were part of the group of people that Tom Brokaw called 'Our Greatest Generation.' To deny these men and women their vote is a great injustice."
Adding insult to the injury, say many residents, is the unflattering media coverage that has focused on Palm Beach County voters, painting them as seniors too sunbaked and dim-witted to understand a simple ballot."For the men who put their life on the line and for the women who worked the munitions factories building the ships, planes and tanks for their sons and husbands, to be made fun of and joked about by the media is embarrassing and a poor example for our young people," Ed Levins said.
"As far as I am concerned, the people of Palm Beach County have brought to light the problems in using the present antiquated methods of voting. The over 19,000 discarded votes were comprised of people of all ages and races from every walk of life," he added. "Hopefully, something constructive will be accomplished so that this will never happen again."
Meanwhile, the nation waits for the courts to decide whether Palm Beach County will have to hold a re-vote before the next president is announced.
Democrats and Republicans are also closely monitoring the absentee ballots trickling into Florida from overseas, which, although traditionally coming from military members who favor Republicans, could swing Florida's vote toward Al Gore because of the several thousand ballots requested by voters in Israel.But some here aren't so sure if the confusion warrants a re-vote.
"I do not believe in rerunning the election," said a senior at the Kaplan Jewish Community Center in West Palm Beach who asked not to be identified.
"I am for Gore, but I don't think there is any indication of fraud," the voter said. "I think people should have read the ballot better."