Is Florida's 2000 Vote on the Butterfly Ballot Designer's Mind as November Approaches? You Can Count on It.
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 23, 2004; Page D01
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.
People here still ask: What if? What if that butterfly ballot hadn't been so confusing? There's a sense among many Democrats that they're living through an alternate history, a parallel reality created through a fluke in Palm Beach County in November 2000. And some are still furious.
"I've got the blood of over 500 men and women on my hands, because the war's my fault," says Theresa LePore. She's paraphrasing what people have said to her.
"Nine-eleven was my fault."
They're rare, these attacks on her, but they can be brutal. At an arts festival recently, LePore staffed an elections booth, demonstrating the new touch-screen voting machines. They have replaced the antiquated punch-card devices that produced the notorious hanging chads of the 2000 Florida recount . Three hecklers came out of nowhere.
"I should be tried for treason, I don't care about democracy, blah blah blah."
She tried to block it out. That has been her strategy for 3 1/2 years.
"I'm still getting hate mail. I'm still getting death threats," she says.
LePore, supervisor of elections for Palm Beach County, will forever be known as the woman who designed the so-called butterfly ballot that in all likelihood cost Al Gore thousands of votes in a state that George W. Bush officially carried by only 537.
The clamor died down for a couple of years but seems to be on the rise again. Recently a left-leaning election reform group began holding protests outside her office. And she is being sued in federal court, along with the Florida secretary of state and one other county supervisor of elections, by a U.S. congressman who doesn't trust those touch-screen voting machines. In the midst of it all, LePore has a pressing personal challenge: She's running for reelection.
"I have a job to do, and I intend to continue doing it," she says, and then adds something that, given all that has happened, comes as a surprise: "Besides, I enjoy what I do."
One of the many ironies of Theresa LePore's political notoriety is that she doesn't seem to be a political person at all. She was once registered as a Democrat but is now registered "no party," and the position of supervisor of elections has officially become nonpartisan. The job is her life. She got her first internship in the office in 1971, at the age of 16. The oldest of eight children, she went to junior college and then Florida Atlantic University, steadily working in the elections office and often at a second job. She's guarded about her private life -- her husband doesn't trust the media, she says, and won't give an interview -- and she says that when she's upset, "I talk to my dogs." Her claim to showing up for work routinely at 6 in the morning is buttressed by an e-mail sent to a reporter at 5:51 a.m.
She's tall, blond, with sharp facial features and wrists thickened with bracelets. When put on the spot (a deposition, a newspaper interview), she tends to adopt a stoical expression, her voice flat, almost monotonic. She's got her shields up. There's some anger there. And though she hides it, there's a lot of hurt.
She says, "I can't let it get to me. Because then they'll win. I feel that people who want to hurt other people want to see them hurt, and I refuse to let other people see that."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
"I'm always on guard," says Theresa LePore, Palm Beach County elections supervisor, surrounded by new touch-screen voting machines.
(Joshua Prezant For The Washington Post)