The Gore campaign is seriously considering a legal challenge to the highly contested vote count in Florida, a top campaign official tells ABCNEWS’ Nightline.
Democrats are looking carefully at ballots cast in Palm Beach County, Fla., where many voters complained the ballot was so confusing they accidentally voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore.
Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes would put either Gore, the Democrat who now has 260 electoral votes, or Republican George W. Bush, who has 246, past the 270 needed to win the presidency.
The potential mix-up in Palm Beach is just one of many complaints being fielded in Florida, where an exhaustive recount in one of the tightest presidential contests in decades got under way Wednesday.
Before the recount, the official tally had Bush leading Gore by only 1,784 votes. That margin fell within the one-half of 1 percent of the vote needed to call for a recount under Florida state law.
There were so many mistakes made, according to Democratic sources in Florida, that more than 19,000 ballots in Palm Beach County — 4 percent of the total — were disqualified because they contained punches for more than one presidential candidate.
After the first day of Florida’s recount, with 32 out of 67 counties retallied, Gore had picked up a net gain of 843 votes.
Serious Legal Challenge May Come
A senior official in the Gore campaign tells ABCNEWS’ Nightline that given the seriousness of the revelations in Palm Beach County, the campaign is definitely “moving in the direction” of mounting a serious legal challenge.
Hundreds of Gore supporters called the county elections office on Wednesday, saying the punch-card ballot was so confusing they thought they may have accidentally voted for Buchanan instead of Gore. In fact, Palm Beach county officials sent out notices to poll workers to remind voters that “they’re to punch the hole next to the arrow, next to the number, next to the candidate they wish to vote for.”
Regardless of the efforts made by county officials, three Palm Beach county voters said they would sue, seeking a new election.
The Democratic congressman from the district said he was outraged.
“We have an election law catastrophe in Florida!” an angry Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., told Nightline. He argued that there is enough evidence to warrant not only a recount, but a court challenge as well.
“I saw with my own eyes several hundred people come out of the ballot box in hysterics, but I also know other things,” Wexler said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
“I know my people,” he added. “Trust me when I tell you there are communities where Pat Buchanan would never get five or six dozen votes and he did.”
On Wednesday, Florida election officials said the ballot complied with state law and that both parties had approved it before the election. The Bush campaign insisted there was no evidence of fraud.
Buchanan Ballot Blunder?
Democratic Party officials said sample ballots handed to Florida voters by volunteers as they entered the polling places in precincts in Palm Beach listed the candidates in a different order than what voters saw in the voting booths.
The result, they said, was voters who referenced the sample ballots to cast their votes may have voted for Buchanan when they thought they were voting for Gore.