Palm Beach election official Theresa LePore, who designed the “butterfly” ballot that many voters claimed was too confusing and led them to vote incorrectly, says she was just trying to make ballots easier for Palm Beach County voters.
“Being that I’m involved with a federal task force for blind and handicapped voters, I’m particularly sensitive to the special needs of those citizens that fall into those categories,”Theresa LePore told ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America in an exclusive interview.
“Palm Beach County has a lot of elderly voters. I was trying to make the ballot so that it would be easier for the voters to read, which is why we went to the two-page, now known as the butterfly ballot.”
Some Florida voters said left the ballot confused them and caused them to cast their ballots for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Vice President Al Gore.
Some Democrats say that cost Gore Florida’s 25 electoral votes and allowed Texas Gov. George W.Bush to win the presidency.
A Day of Complaints The first complaints, from two elderly men, about the ballot came at 10 a.m. on Election Day. LePore says she hoped it was an isolated incident, but by afternoon there was a groundswell of criticism.
She says she tried to send word to her 531 precincts to help voters navigate the ballot, but that the complaints kept rolling in.
“People need to take some responsibility as well for what they do,” LePore told GMA. “Looking back, maybe we should have made it clearer that the presidential candidates were on two pages. I don’t know. Again, I can’t go back and second guess, because it’s something that’s done.”
When asked about the pattern of voting for Buchanan in some of the Democratic Jewish precincts, LePore said she did consider it suspicious.
“But as normal procedure, the day after the election, we go through precinct by precinct to see if there’s any anomalies or anything that looks out of the ordinary, and in some of the condo precincts and other specific precincts where he received a little bit larger percentage than normal, then that’s when I started noticing that maybe something wasn’t right here.”
When asked whether it was the ballot that was the anomaly, LePore answered, “Obviously.”
LePore also said that in retrospect, Palm Beach County “probably should” have worked on Thanksgiving to recount the ballots to miss Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ cutoff date for the manual recounts. Palm Beach officials were widely criticized for spending days wrangling over what to do about the recount, and then taking the Thanksgiving holiday off.
When asked whether she thought the ballot may have cost Gore the election, LePore said she was unsure.
“Who’s to say? Again, it just — you don’t know. You can’t go back and try to reconstruct because it is a secret ballot, so there’s no way to go back and see who voted one card or another card, and ask them, ‘Hey, what was your intent on this?’
“And in talking to — rather receiving notes from other elections officials around the country, through some other organizations I belong to, they’re saying, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ It could have been anybody in the country, and it could have been any state or any other voting jurisdiction, if put under the same scrutiny that we were put under.”
Keeping to Her Job
LePore, who says she’s had 25 lawsuits filed against her since the Nov. 7 election, said the last six weeks have been “hell.”
“It hurts” LePore said. “I did have a lot of support but there are a lot of people I am getting a lot of hate mail.”
But despite the “horrible things” that people have said about her, she said that she will stay on as Palm Beach County’s supervisor of elections and plans to seek re-election in 2004.
LePore said the hardest part of the last six weeks has been people she thought were friends demanding her resignation, calling her a “closet Republican” and accusing her of being “paid off” as part of a conspiracy to elect Bush.
“If I was paid off, why am I here instead of the Bahamas?” she said.
LePore has been an elections worker for most of her life. She started in the Palm Beach office in 1971 at the age of 16.
A die-hard Democrat and daughter of a former West Palm Beach commissioner, she slowly moved up the ladder until she was elected to her current post in 1996.
She refused to say who she voted for but hinted that she may change her party affiliation to independent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.