South Florida seniors fuming over depiction in the media

WEST PALM BEACH — As the nation still awaits the outcome of legal wrangling and vote recounts, residents of this heavily Jewish region of South Florida are angry at the way they've been portrayed in the media.

They insist that the ballot would have been confusing even if they weren't senior citizens.

The position of Ed Lewis, who lives at the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club in Boynton Beach, is representative.

Lewis says he carefully studied the sample he received in the mail before the election and mapped out his votes. So he was shocked when he arrived at the voting booths and couldn't understand the ballot.

"Even though I'm 66, I'm very bright," he says. "I voted correctly but I had to spend at least 20 seconds or more reading the ballot. There is no question in my mind there was a problem with the ballot."

Adding insult to injury, say many residents, is the unflattering media coverage of Palm Beach County voters, painting them as seniors too sun-baked and dim-witted to understand a simple ballot.

"Quite a few of the older men who came to vote were so proud that they were wearing their medals and combat ribbons that they earned during World War II," says Ed Levins of Boca Raton, a poll volunteer. "They were part of the group of people that Tom Brokaw called 'Our Greatest Generation.'

"To deny these men and women their vote is a great injustice," Levins continues.

"For the men who put their life on the line and for the women who worked the munitions factories building the ships, planes and tanks for their sons and husbands — to be made fun of and joked about by the media is embarrassing and a poor example for our young people."

Levins believes, however, that some good may have come from the presidential election snafu.

"As far as I am concerned, the people of Palm Beach County have brought to light the problems in using the present antiquated methods of voting," he says. The more than 19,000 discarded votes comprised "people of all ages and races from every walk of life.

"Hopefully," Levins adds, "something constructive will be accomplished so that this will never happen again."

Others, of course, are still fuming.

Alan David never gave his ballots a second thought after having voted in dozens of presidential elections during the decades he lived in New York. Then, after moving here two years ago, he voted in Palm Beach County for the first time last week.

"I looked at the ballot and said, 'What the heck is this?'" recalls David, who lives in the Century Village community of West Palm Beach. "I voted, but I don't know what I voted. It was so confusing."

He certainly wasn't the only Palm Beacher who left the polls Election Day unsure if his vote helped or hurt his candidate, Al Gore.

Even before the polls closed, voters flooded the state's elections department with angry calls, demanding recounts and even re-votes, as many realized they may have voted for the wrong candidate.

The confusion for many stemmed from the way the ballot was structured, with the proximity of Gore's name to the punch hole designated for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan apparently causing many Gore supporters to accidentally vote for Buchanan.

Levins and his wife had volunteered to help run the polls in the Kings Point community of Delray Beach, where some of the worst confusion has been reported.

Sheila Levins said many people dissolved into tears after leaving the voting booths there. "This was very upsetting. People started crying, saying, 'I voted for Buchanan,'" she says. "I think it's a terrible disgrace. Somebody has to stand up somewhere about this. I'm an optimist; I believe the truth will come out."

Some people at Kings Point realized they had made a mistake and asked the site's supervisor for help, Ed Levins remembers, adding that tempers flared when the supervisor told them there was nothing that could be done.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans were closely monitoring the absentee ballots trickling into Florida from overseas, which, although traditionally coming from military members who favor Republicans, could swing Florida's vote toward Al Gore because of the several thousand ballots requested by voters in Israel.