Bolton: We’re prepared for election recount

Republican former UN ambassador says Romney campaign learned from the "flat-footed" mistakes made in 2000.

By STEWART STOGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JERUSALEM POST
November 6, 2012 23:25
John Bolton

John Bolton 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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NEW YORK – Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who led efforts on behalf of George W. Bush during the controversial Florida 2000 vote recount, has told The Jerusalem Post that the Romney campaign is prepared for any 2012 election “irregularities.”

“We got caught flat-footed in 2000,” Bolton said on Monday. “The Romney campaign learned from the mistakes we made. This time we have all states covered. We are prepared for any eventuality.”

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Bolton, a Republican and long-time associate of former secretary of state James Baker, who is also a law firm partner, oversaw the famous Florida recount involving the examination of numerous ballots with “hanging chads” – bits of paper that were still attached after voters punched holes indicating their choices.

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He explained the experience gained in 2000 could be “invaluable” if the 2012 election is as close as many polls indicate.

“The Democrats’ approach in Florida was to find any approach they could to force a recount in areas they thought they could harvest votes,” he said. “It had less to do with problems with the voting and more with an attempt to change the result of the election. As certain as an election could be – all went for Bush – and yet the Democrats persisted in the argument that there were problems with butterfly ballots, that some were not written in Creole for Haitian-Americans. Others had hanging chads.”

This time, Bolton said, “while there are fewer paper ballots in 2012, the newer electronic voting could prove far more ‘problematical.’ The old [paper card] ballot may actually have been more reliable than the current electronic voting.”



The newer voting systems may be more, not less, prone to tampering, he explained.

“In 2000, we had hard evidence of voting,” he said. “Now all we have is electronic data. It may be easier to play with than the old-fashioned punch card. It may be easier to fix an an election by manipulating a few electrons.With the punch card or a written ballot, you could hold them. Instead of hanging chads, we may have missing electrons.”

His concerns come on the heels of published reports that early election voting in several states showed ballots cast for Romney tabulated as for Obama.

Armies of lawyers were at the ready Tuesday as tussles continued over voting, especially in Ohio and Florida, the two states considered most likely to throw the presidential election into an overtime ballot dispute reminiscent of the Bush-Gore race of 2000.

David Beattie, a veteran Democratic pollster in Florida, told The Los Angeles Times that litigation in his state and Ohio would likely result whatever the outcome.

“I would be shocked if there wasn’t,” he said. “Democrats will see it as precedent for how future elections are held. And Republicans will do it if Obama’s elected because they have nothing to lose.”

Interminable lines were reported at early voting sites in Florida, “a clear legacy of the effort to restrict voting this year,” said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The center, a nonpartisan think tank that studies voting issues, has been among the voting rights groups complaining that Florida was threatening the right to vote by eliminating early voting in some counties on Sundays – a popular time for African American voters – and cutting back on other hours when many voters might be free.

After a turbulent weekend featuring early-morning legal challenges by Democratic lawyers and a fracas at the Miami- Dade elections office, there were few problems reported Monday. The Broward County elections office – the only South Florida office not to open Sunday – was open Monday and handing out absentee ballots until 5 p.m.

Elections officials in Florida, like those in other important swing states, were bracing for potential trouble on Tuesday from groups organized to challenge voter credentials, such as True the Vote or a local group called Tampa Vote Fair.

Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, who follows election law closely, posted on his blog Monday: “Even though Ohio is giving it a run for its money, Florida is doing whatever it can to be the next Florida.”

But as Hasen suggested, Ohio was the center of considerable dispute.

The latest was over a directive that Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, issued Friday evening. It concerned paper provisional ballots that some voters must use when their eligibility can’t be verified on election day.

The directive prohibits local election boards from counting the ballots of voters who fail to list what form of ID they presented at the polls. But state law requires the poll worker, not the voter, to list what form of ID was presented. And federal courts have ruled that Ohio must count the provisional ballots of voters when poll worker error caused their ballot information to be filled out incorrectly.

“He’s shifted the poll worker’s job to the voter,” said Subodh Chandra, a lawyer for the groups seeking a court order to overturn that part of Husted’s directive.

While Bolton did not believe that the 2000 problems would resurface in Florida, other states (such as Ohio) could pose a challenge. Both the Republicans and Democrats will have lawyers mobilized in key states to sniff out irregularities and prevent them if possible.

Bolton was especially concerned about election operations in states hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has already stated he might consider extending voting by as long as 20 days by executive order. He decided that voters living in areas with no open polling places could move to nearby open centers out of their district by simply signing special affidavits.

“I think this is a real potential problem, especially with a computerized system,” Bolton said. “I hope the states have backup paper ballots.... I think what people must insist on to ensure the integrity of the election process is that their votes are actually counted. If they lose faith in that, we [as a nation] have a real problem.”

He cautioned that “these unlimited extensions are really unfair to people....

You play by one set of rules, and then the rules change? That’s what the Democrats were trying to do in Florida [in 2000]. I think it undercuts the voting process in very serious ways.”

As a political observer, he anticipated a close election.

“There’s no question about it. And that is why, at least on the Republican side, we are prepared in all of the battleground states with legal teams already deployed.”

He added, “In 2000, the Democrats were ready and we were desperately coming from behind. They were already organized, they had people who had done this before. I thought that ‘Chad’ was a country in Africa. They had people who knew about ‘dimpled’ chads, ‘pregnant’ chads and ‘hanging’ chads because they had done this before in labor union elections.

We learned a lot on the Republican side, and I think the Romney campaign is much better prepared this time.”

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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