Wednesday, November 22, 2000
In The News."Gore's Point Man Argued Against Dimples in 1996," Palm Beach
Post, by Joel Engelhardt, 11/22/00
"Amid the swarm of the world press outside the county Emergency Operations
Center, Dennis Newman leads the charge to find new votes for Al Gore in the
dimples of the Palm Beach County ballot.
"In his distinctive Boston accent, the slightly rumpled man in the slightly
rumpled suit recites erudite arguments to explain over and over to the
breathless media why a tiny indentation on a paper ballot could determine
the leader of the world's most powerful nation.
"His argument, put simply, is that dimples show the true intent of the
voter. Voters caused those dimples. Dimples should count.
"Four years ago, in a similar election spat, Newman took a much different
stand. Employing his best legal tactics on behalf of a Democrat holding a
slight lead in a primary race for Congress, Newman scoffed at the idea of
counting the tiny indentations as votes.
"Like the Republicans watching now, Newman wondered out loud how ballots
that had been handled over and over, in recount after recount, could still
be impartially judged. Couldn't the ballots -- and therefore the votes -- be
affected by all that touching and grabbing?
"'I don't think they are handled with kid gloves,' he said in The Boston
"A pregnant bulge on a computer card falls far short of the proof needed to
show a voter's intent, he said then.
"He even embraced the position forged last week by the Palm Beach County
canvassing board: To determine a voter's intent, the entire ballot must be
taken into account. In other words, if a ballot doesn't have dimples in
several different races -- not just the presidential race -- the voter
probably didn't intend for that presidential dimple to be a vote.
"In 1996, Newman argued that the congressional race, while heated, wasn't
the most important thing on the minds of all 50,000 voters in the district
and many may have purposefully skipped it. Now, he insists, Palm Beach
County voters didn't stand in line on Election Day only to skip the most
important race on the ballot.
"Four years ago, he pointed to confusion on the ballot -- two men by the
same name ran for different offices -- and said it may have forced voters to
stop, press, then pull away without casting a vote.
"Now, he seriously doubts the indentations could have been made by someone
pausing over the name -- and then choosing to skip the race for president.
"Newman and at least three other Boston-area attorneys -- all with election
law experience -- have been here or in Broward County fighting for every
presidential vote. Among them is Haskell Kassler, one of the lawyers on the
other side in Newman's Massachusetts case.
"They've heard the opposition to dimples before. In Newman's case, he's even
spouted it. But no longer. He lost.
"He represented Philip Johnston, the hardluck candidate who won the Election
Day count in September 1996 by 266 votes but lost the judicial review less
than a month later by 108.
"'The court has ruled and I've seen the light -- through the chad,' Newman
said in an interview Tuesday.
"Newman, 50, ran Gore's campaign in Massachusetts. He flew to West Palm
Beach just two days after Election Day turned into topsy-turvy Election
Night and Florida went up for grabs.
"Even before chad became a household word, Newman knew it could come down to
"Nestled among Palm Beach County's 462,000 presidential ballots were 10,300
on which no vote was cast for a presidential candidate. In past national
elections, when millions of votes are cast, 10,000 lost votes in Palm Beach
County would have been of no consequence. But not this time.
"Machines, Newman knew, wouldn't count the votes if the voter didn't press
hard enough to sever the chad, allowing light to shine through. But
judges -- some judges, at least -- would.
"He watched four years ago as Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Elizabeth
Donovan counted 956 ballots the machine couldn't count. She awarded 177 to
Johnston and 469 votes to his opponent, William Delahunt.
"Newman waited while the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed her
"He was there two years later when the state banned the use of punch-card
ballots, the same voting system that Palm Beach County voters have been
using since the 1970s.
"So dimples aren't something new to Newman. He bristles when he hears
Republicans say the Democrats are trying to change the rules midway through
"On Nov. 11, the morning of Palm Beach County's sample hand count of four
precincts, the Democrats turned in a memorandum of law explaining why
dimples should be counted.
"Two days later they filed suit.
"At the time, Newman was a silent observer, working behind Miami lawyer Ben
Kuehne, who earned his election law stripes in helping to throw out Miami's
1997 mayoral election.
"But Kuehne has gone behind the scenes, working on the legal challenges and
leaving Newman in the network glare.
"When Circuit Court Judge Jorge Labarga ruled last week that dimples must be
considered, Democrats believed they had won.
"But days later, without an explosion of anger, there was Newman, patiently
explaining that no, the dimples still weren't being counted. The canvassing
board, he said, failed to follow the judge's direction. And no, the
Democrats were not changing the rules in the middle of the game and really
all they wanted was a fair and accurate count.
"And Monday night, Newman found comfort deep within a Florida Supreme Court
ruling extending the deadline for the hand counts. The court cited a case
that held voters should not be disenfranchised because the chad they punched
did not completely dislodge from the ballot.
"Now Newman's appearance outside the counting center is an excuse for
cameramen and reporters to swarm. He does live shots for Fox News. He is not
stylish. He is part lawyer, part lifelong political operative who back in
1992 helped run the late Sen. Paul Tsongas' White House bid.
"He's an advocate and he's working for his client, the vice president of the
"He closes with a tale, a cautionary fable about lawyering. Abe Lincoln is
arguing as an attorney before a judge. The judge points out that Lincoln
argued one way in the morning and took the opposite tack in the afternoon.
'Were you right this morning?' the judge wants to know.
"'Your honor, this morning I'm not sure. But I'm sure I'm right now,'
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