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Florida’s ‘butterfly ballot’ inventor loses elections job

Thu., Sept. 2, 2004

MIAMI – As a final irony, there has been a last-minute discrepancy in tallying absentee ballots. But Theresa LePore, the elections supervisor in Palm Beach County who gained national notoriety as designer of the “butterfly ballot” that helped trigger Florida’s 2000 election chaos, appeared Wednesday to have lost her job.

“The voter anger was obvious, and LePore became the target this year,” when she sought a third term, said Shari MacLachlan, professor of political science at Palm Beach Community College.

The Democratic Party, the dominant force in her county’s politics, criticized LePore, 49, for refusing to add safeguards to new touch-screen voting machines that would generate a paper trail for use in the event of a recount.

According to complete but still uncertified results from Tuesday’s primary, LePore lost to Arthur Anderson by 5,533 votes out of more than 177,000 cast. Anderson, 63, is an education professor at Florida Atlantic University.

Though the race was nonpartisan, Anderson was championed by Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler of Boca Raton, and boosted by campaign appearances by former Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Howard Dean.

On Wednesday, co-workers in the supervisor’s office said LePore did not come to work. LePore began working in the county elections office in West Palm Beach as a file clerk 33 years ago.

“She’s worked in that office since she was 16 years old. So this is a significant shock and a loss that’s going to take some time to heal,” spokesman Marty Rogol said.

LePore remains in office until January and therefore will oversee another presidential election.

In 2000, LePore created the so-called butterfly ballot, where the names of presidential candidates were listed on opposing pages. She said she did it to make the type bigger, so the ballot would be easier for the county’s seniors to read.

But almost immediately after polls in the last presidential election opened, some voters complained that LePore’s design led them to vote for conservative Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan instead of the Democrat, Vice President Al Gore. LePore quickly became the object of intense hatred and loathing, and when the Republican candidate, President Bush, was declared official winner in Florida by 537 votes, some blamed her.

She replied that the Democratic and Republican parties had signed off on the ballot before the election, and noted Gore carried Palm Beach County by more than 116,000 votes.

“Unfortunately, Ms. LePore did not help matters for herself because she never took responsibility,” said Carol Ann Loehndorf, chair of the Democratic Party of Palm Beach County. “There was a continuous effort to blame the voters.”


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