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Lawsuit demands a recount of slots vote
By Linda Kleindienst and Sarah Talalay for the Sun Sentinel. 16 November 2004

Opponents of slot machines at South Florida pari-mutuel venues have filed a lawsuit seeking an official recount of about 78,000 absentee ballots cast in Broward County on Amendment 4 in the Nov. 2 election.

The votes in question were counted late on election night after a glitch was discovered in the computers tallying absentees.
About 94 percent of the new votes on Amendment 4 turned out to be "yes" and 6 percent "no" an outcome No Casinos officials claim is a "statistical anomaly" that calls the count into question.

"For the lay person, it is a million-to-one chance that this could happen by itself," said state Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, chairman of the Orlando-based No Casinos. "We'll have experts reflect on that. It's bizarre. It's easy to build the case for a conspiracy."

Amendment 4 won by a 119,080-vote margin out of 7.14 million cast just enough to prevent it from undergoing an automatic statewide recount.

Johnson, who immediately asked Broward elections officials to keep the 78,861 late-counted absentees separate from other ballots, is hoping a review may knock off enough "yes" votes to mandate a statewide recount. A recount is automatically triggered if the margin of victory is less than one-half of 1 percent.

No Casinos and Heather Veleanu, a Broward resident and managing director of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, filed the suit against the Broward County Canvassing Board and Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes.

"Considering the 11th-hour appearance of large numbers of ballots, it's essential to the integrity of the electoral process that these ballots be recounted," Veleanu said.

Burnadette Norris-Weeks, an attorney representing the Supervisor of Elections Office, said she could not comment extensively before speaking with her client, but said, "My initial thought is that the results of the office are accurate."

No hearing in the case has been scheduled.

Supporters of the amendment say opponents were not represented at the canvassing board, where they could have objected to the vote count.

"After the process they are looking at lawsuits of questionable merit to try to undo the will of the people," said Earl Bender, campaign manger for Amendment 4. "It sure does seem it's yet another in a long list of desperate attempts to ignore the fact that the voters have spoken, particularly the voters here in Broward and Miami-Dade."

Amendment 4 gives Broward and Miami-Dade voters the opportunity to decide if they want slots alongside betting windows at seven local dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons. It also provides that any tax revenue raised from the machines go directly to public schools across the state, although the pari-mutuels involved would make billions and local governments would benefit from taxes.

But even if the amendment still eventually becomes part of the state constitution, Johnson warned he would do everything possible in the Legislature to limit the success of the pari-mutuels that install the new machines. The Legislature could take up the issue as soon as its special session in December.

"This thing barely passed," he said. "I think the Legislature as a representative of the people are less than supportive of any expansion of gambling."

Johnson also said it will be up to the Legislature to determine the definition of a slot machine and that the venues could end up with the same type of bingo-style slots already at Indian casinos, rather than the more popular Las Vegas-style slots they are seeking.

Bender reacted angrily to the prospect of the Legislature circumventing the intent of the Amendment.

"This is legislation by loophole," Bender said. "This is exactly the kind of legislative tomfoolery which makes the people so angry at the way the lottery money has been handled."

In 1986, Florida voters approved a state lottery under which revenue was expected to enhance education. Instead, the lottery money was used by the Legislature to pay for everyday school expenses.

Broward and Miami-Dade officials have indicated they might push for countywide referendums as early as March.

Johnson warned they shouldn't move too fast. Besides the No Casinos lawsuit, animal rights groups have legally challenged the method used to collect the signatures that helped put the amendment on the ballot and a hearing has been scheduled for January.


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