Arthur Anderson appeared headed for a stunning victory over Theresa LePore early today in a tight race for Palm Beach County elections supervisor.
With 96 percent of 693 precincts reporting, Anderson had 51.5 percent of the vote to LePore's 48.3 percent. Write-in candidate Glenn MacLean had 0.2 percent.
LePore, 49, led in early returns, maintaining a 10 percent margin that slowly dwindled as late-arriving totals came in from south county precincts in Anderson's home territory. Anderson, 63, of Boca Raton, is an education professor at Florida Atlantic University and a former member of the Palm Beach County School Board.
Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore created Palm Beach Conty's infamous 'Butterfly Ballot' (Photo/Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)
If Anderson receives more than 50 percent of the vote, no runoff would be necessary. The nonpartisan supervisor's post pays $121,494 a year for a four-year term, beginning in January.
LePore bristled when reporters asked, near midnight, why Palm Beach County's vote tallies were running behind those in Broward, Miami-Dade and other counties.
"Do you want speed, or do you want accuracy?" she said. "It's on schedule. It'll get done when it gets done. Geographically, this county is so large, it takes time to get the (voting machine) cartridges in here."
LePore had predicted a 28 percent turnout for the primary, but lowered it as the day went on and reports of heavy demand for storm supplies at stores indicated voters may have been distracted by the threat of Hurricane Frances.
Anderson remained optimistic as the night wore on, barely paying attention to vote totals as they came in by computer and television.
"I'd be in bed sleeping if all these folks weren't here," he said, referring to about 25 family members and friends who dropped by his house in Boca Raton for a victory party.
Anderson's campaign was driven by money, endorsements and residual anger stimulated by U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Delray Beach, whose own crusade for a paper ballot trail put him at legal and political odds with LePore long before the supervisor's race began.
Wexler sued LePore and Secretary of State Glenda Hood, claiming paperless touch-screen voting machines violate state law. The claim was rejected by state circuit and appellate courts and by a district federal judge, but is still before a federal appeals court.
Wexler, his aides and others hovered around a laptop computer watching the vote get closer and closer until 11:47 p.m., when huge applause broke out, with supporters screaming, "You're winning!"
"Wow! Wow! Wow!" Wexler exclaimed. "I'm starting to have fun."
If Anderson's edge held, it would be a major upset and demonstrate public support for a paper ballot trail, Wexler said.
"This shows how fired-up Democrats are," he said. "The message is: George and Jeb Bush, watch out, 'cause we're coming."
Anderson, who barely cracked a smile all night, suddenly couldn't stop smiling. "We're headed to victory," he said.
"People have lost faith in the process," he said, repeating a campaign theme. "We have a president elected by the courts, and not by the ballot, and that's what this is all about."
After Wexler was reelected without opposition, he employed unused money from his campaign to fuel Anderson's flagging effort against LePore. He brought Howard Dean, former Vermont governor and presidential candidate, and former vice presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., to make appearances for Anderson and paid for TV ads promoting him and attacking LePore.
The contest was marked by accusations of ethics and election law violations, with each side filing or threatening to file complaints against the other. After the March 9 presidential primary and municipal election, Anderson alleged "numerous problems and irregularities" and called for Gov. Jeb Bush to remove LePore from office.
Anderson accused LePore of violating election law by not certifying all poll watchers by the Aug. 24 deadline, which LePore said wasn't true. In print and broadcast ads, some paid for by Wexler, Anderson reminded voters of the discredited punch-card ballots and Palm Beach County's "butterfly" design that confused voters, led to massive recount efforts and eventually gave George W. Bush the presidency.
LePore's campaign treasurer filed complaints with ethics and elections officials in August, alleging Anderson's financial disclosure and campaign finance reports failed to disclose the source of a $25,000 personal loan to his campaign, illegally made repayments from campaign funds to a corporation, misstated his net worth and understated his debt to the federal government for back taxes.
Anderson said failed business ventures in Africa had left him unable to pay his taxes. His reputation was scarred by disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service had filed $93,880 in tax liens against him since 1988 and a court had ordered money deducted from his FAU salary for 15 years for a child he had with a woman who sued him for paternity and support.
LePore and Anderson both began election day early, he on the phone at 6:45 a.m. with campaign workers and she at 7 a.m. at Precinct 3041, Lake Clarke Shores City Hall.
The supervisor was greeted like a demi-celebrity by poll workers and early morning voters in the tiny suburban community, which has 2,378 registered voters.
Hugs, handshakes and "Hey, Theresa," greeted her at nine other polling places in Palm Springs, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Lantana and West Palm Beach. At Lake Worth Towers on Lucerne Avenue in Lake Worth, a man in a wheelchair rolled up and began a pep talk:
"You hang in there, girl," he told LePore. "The people criticizing you have a political agenda. I've told everyone I know to vote for you because you're the most competent elected official in Palm Beach County. You're the best candidate."
Her endorser was former State Rep. John Jordan, 78, sidelined by a leg infection but hoping to be back on his feet soon.
LePore was a registered Democrat who advocated the office be nonpartisan. She switched to No Party Affiliation after the 2000 election.
At St. Thomas More Church, where two Boynton Beach precincts vote, David Neiman, 85, proudly wearing his orange mesh election deputy vest, said he voted for LePore without hesitation.
"All this baloney from 2000, you can't blame that on one person," said Neiman, a retired retailer from Chicago.
But another elections worker at St. Thomas More, Lee Wixman, a retired Justice of the Peace from New Haven, Conn., said former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman's recent criticism of LePore made some legitimate points.
"He's right, she's wrong about the paper ballots," Wixman said. "It would be good to have some backup, but I think she's done some things very well."
At Precinct 7120, voting at Temple Beth Kodesh in Boynton Beach, LePore shook hands with Clinton Waters as he was leaving the polling place. "I voted for you," he volunteered.
"I've lived here since the '60s and never had any trouble voting," Waters said. "I think she's done a good job."
Anderson cast his ballot at 9 a.m. at the Boca-Delray Clubhouse in Delray Beach and concentrated on south county precincts the rest of the day.
He returned to the site of his earliest foray into politics, the sprawling Boca Raton seniors community of Century Village West, home to 6,000 registered voters. Anderson said he began his first School Board race in 1986 with a tea at Century Village and received 85 percent of the vote in the community.
Marvin Manning, president of the community association, said turnout was only a third of what it was in November 2000. Anderson said absentee ballots would more than compensate for low turnout.
"In the final analysis," he said, "both God's and the people's will will prevail."
Staff writer Ron Hayes and researcher Krista Pegnetter contributed to this story.
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