Guess Who’s Counting the Votes for Green? Gore’s Buddy Boies

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

possible.

“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

arise.”

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

this election.”

Florida Redux?

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

places.

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

the city.

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

in November.

Meanwhile, political

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

down.

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

greatest support.

“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

possible.”