David Boies, the lead attorney for Al Gore’s campaign during
last year’s Presidential recount in Florida, has a new client, one who isn’t
about to let a vote-counting mess get in the way of his Mayoral ambitions:
Public Advocate Mark Green.
The Observer has
learned that Mr. Green has enlisted Mr. Boies to put together a team of
hundreds of lawyers to monitor polling places on Primary Day, Sept. 11, in an
attempt to guard against balloting mistakes and the possibility of voter fraud.
This year’s election promises to be the most chaotic in recent memory, because
term limits have forced an unprecedented upheaval in city government.
“We think that if everything works smoothly and all votes
meant to be cast are counted properly, Mark will win,” said Mr. Boies, a friend
of Mr. Green for more than 20 years, in an interview with The Observer . “We are interested in making sure that happens ….
Nobody could have predicted what happened in Florida. I don’t think anyone can
predict what might happen in the 2001 Mayoral election. We want to make sure
that nothing happens to distort the will of the voters.”
Mr. Boies added that he hoped to bring “several hundred” lawyers out to help Mr. Green on
Primary Day; more than 200 lawyers have already been recruited.
Aides to Mr. Green’s Democratic rivals immediately
questioned the arrangement. “You don’t need Wall Street litigators to watch the
polls,” scoffed Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for City Council Speaker Peter
Vallone. “You need people who know the streets.”
Although all the candidates will have poll-watchers, the
arrangement between Mr. Green and Mr. Boies, who is volunteering his services,
is highly unusual in New York politics. Mr. Green’s rivals-Mr. Vallone, City
Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer-are likely
to deploy a more traditional combination of union troops, supporters from
county organizations and other assorted party regulars to watch the polls. They
will also have access to the election-law specialists that every political
machine keeps on virtual retainer.
By contrast, Mr. Green, a longtime public-interest lawyer
and maverick, has little support from the Democratic establishment, forcing him
to dip into his Rolodex and build a kind of lawyers’ machine that he can call
his own. Mr. Green wants to have a lawyer on-site in as many polling places as
“In the outer boroughs, the polls will be opened and closed
by inspectors from the Democratic Party machinery,” said one lawyer involved in
the Green campaign. “By definition, the other candidates already have their
people in every polling place. So it’s in our interest to have a set of eyes
and ears trained in the law and ready to spot problems of any type that may
The idea is to tap into a network of private-sector lawyers
who rarely get involved in politics, and to give the big white-shoe firms an
easy way of getting in good with the Mayoral candidate who happens to be leading
in the polls.
“When [John] Lindsay ran for Mayor [in 1965], there was a
very large and well-organized lawyers’ group watching the polls,” Mr. Boies
said, noting that Lindsay was a Republican running against the city’s
Democratic establishment. “When the support comes from the ground up, as
opposed from the top down, you want to be sure that all the votes from the
bottom up are being counted.”
It may seem far-fetched that Mr. Boies’ operation could turn
out an army of lawyers for Mr. Green as large as the one he ran in Florida on
behalf of Mr. Gore, which on any given day ran in the hundreds. But Mr. Boies
insists it can be done.
“There are probably more lawyers in New York City than
anywhere else in the world,” he said. “And many of them are interested in
Mr. Boies’ efforts come amid fears that the 2001 Mayoral
election could be as messy as last year’s Florida debacle. Nearly 350
candidates are running for local office this year, encouraged by the forced
departure of 35 incumbent City Council members, four borough presidents and all
three citywide officials. The heightened interest in local Council races is
sure to bring out many first-time voters, lots of them immigrants, which could
make life very complicated at New York’s notoriously inefficient polling
Not only is the Board of
Elections paperwork often out of date, but the voting machines themselves are artifacts from the days when Tammany Hall
still existed, and are subject to frequent-and sometimes inexplicable-breakdowns.
It’s entirely possible that the four-way Democratic primary could well be
decided by just a few thousand votes-and just to make matters more complicated,
if no candidate gets 40 percent of the vote on Primary Day, the top two
finishers will face each other in a runoff two weeks later.
That would give the candidates, their lawyers and the Board
of Elections less than two weeks to examine ballots from more than 1,300
polling sites across
In a sign of just how chaotic things are likely to get,
Danny DeFrancesco, the executive director of the Board of Elections, told The Observer that the board is
considering asking the State Legislature, which oversees election law, to
postpone the possible runoff until Oct. 4 to allow more time for vote-counting.
“I think I can fulfill the count by Sept. 25, but you have a
Jewish holiday [Rosh Hashanah] on the 18th, and if the Orthodox candidates
invoke religious scruples, I would lose two days,” Mr. DeFrancesco said. “I
can’t afford to stop counting.”
Postponing the runoff
could benefit Michael Bloomberg, the likely Republican candidate for Mayor. The
two Democrats in the runoff would be forced to slug it out longer, leaving the
eventual Democratic nominee with less time to regroup for the general election
observers warn that the Board of Elections lacks the staff and technology
necessary to carry out its mission of bringing order to all this chaos. Many
ballots may have to be counted and perhaps recounted … by hand. Sound familiar?
“We could have Florida all over again,” said Gene
Russianoff, a senior attorney with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“We may be hand-counting tens of thousands of ballots-with the Mayoralty
hanging in the balance.”
And New Yorkers may be watching Mr. Boies again, holding up
questionable ballots as he argues the case for Mr. Green. Mr. Boies, of course,
prosecuted the government’s case against Microsoft, saying that the software
company was a monopoly and should be broken up. Last fall, Mr. Boies suffered
his first major defeat when the U.S. Supreme Court halted a manual recount of
votes in four pro-Gore counties in Florida, a decision that probably cost Mr.
Boies’ client the election.
Mr. Boies’ entry into the Mayor’s race could make for an
interesting spectacle come Primary Day, pitting him against an assortment of
familiar New York players. Mr. Hevesi is supported by the Queens organization
and large swaths of the Brooklyn machine; Mr. Vallone controls Council troops
and has won the backing of District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal
union; and Mr. Ferrer enjoys the support of his home borough’s formidable
political organization. As Mr. Green’s advisers well know, local organizations
open the polls, staff them and close them down at night.
Enter Mr. Boies’ lawyers, whose mission will be to watch
over everything on Mr. Green’s behalf-from the opening and closing of polls to
the aiding of first-time voters to the procedures used if the machines break
Mr. Boies’ effort has
attracted some big names: Theodore Sorensen, the speechwriter for John F.
Kennedy; Frederick Schwarz, a former corporation counsel; and Floyd Abrams, the
prominent First Amendment lawyer. The rank-and-file will be drawn from less
glamorous quarters-there will be Legal Aid attorneys and law students, as well
as associates from the major firms.
Although the Green campaign hopes to recruit between 500 and
1,000 lawyers and law students, one person involved in the effort conceded that
they would fall short of being able to monitor all 1,300 polling sites, forcing
them to concentrate their efforts in neighborhoods where they enjoy the
“We’re obviously going to have fewer people than polling
places,” the source said. “So we’re going to allocate our people to the areas
where we have the greatest number of votes to protect. We’re targeting this
effort to neighborhoods that represent Green’s natural base-African-Americans,
Jews and liberals.”
“This is more a question of insurance than it is anything
else,” Mr. Boies added. “I don’t think anybody can predict what might happen.
This effort is just designed to be sure that everything works as smoothly as