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By MONIQUE FIELDS
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 25, 2000
About 120 protesters, many of them war veterans, lined Court Street in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater on Friday, standing up for overseas military men and women whose absentee ballots have been rejected by Florida elections officials.
Armed with American flags, and red, white and blue posters reading: "Count All Military Votes," the protesters chanted: "Military votes count! Military votes count!"
Motorists laid on their horns, buoying the crowd.
Organizers said the rally was nonpartisan, but it drew mostly Gov. George W. Bush supporters, some of whom carried signs denouncing Vice President Al Gore as a sore loser.
The veterans in the group said Florida counties were out of line last week when they cast aside absentee overseas ballots for lack of a postmark or because they were dated after Nov. 7.
"This is like getting a Dear John letter from your country," said 71-year-old Frank Thoubboron, a veteran of the Korean War and a resident of Belleair.
The veterans say when they served, months passed before they saw a mail plane. When letters were sent back to the states, they would write "free" in the upper right-hand corner. Often, their mail arrived without a stamp of any kind.
"It's not their fault they're on a ship overseas. It's not their fault they're in a foreign country," said David Miller, president of the Pinellas County Veterans Liaison Council, one of three organizers of the rally. "They're over there fighting for our country."
What's important was the intent of voters, the protesters said. The intent of those who sent absentee ballots is easier to gauge than the intent of voters who failed to punch a piece of paper from their voting cards, they argued.
"Their intent was to vote, and it is a stronger case than impressions on a piece of paper," said Dan Edwards, who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971.
Most were outraged military servicemen and women were disenfranchised from the electoral process.
"It's almost unbelievable that such a treacherous act could be put on the military," said Louise Fischer, 73, of Largo. "I'm ashamed for this country."