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Tucked into a corner of a conference room at the Lytal Reiter Clark Fountain & Williams law firm’s West Palm Beach, Fla., office, a small television shows the game show “Jeopardy!” But the din of Democratic volunteers fielding complaints from angry Palm Beach County voters drowns out the Double Jeopardy round like so much white noise. Kristie Clegg of Boynton Beach, Fla., takes a call from an elderly woman at St. Andrews Kings Point in Boca Raton, Fla., who says that 100 women have gathered. Each misunderstood Palm Beach County’s now-notorious “butterfly ballot,” and each is anxious to explain how she either inadvertently voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore or invalidated the ballot by punching it twice. Each now wants to make her error right. “They are ashamed that they voted the way they did,” says Clegg, directing the throng to a Democratic Party office in Delray Beach, where they can tell their stories in support of a legal challenge to the Palm Beach County vote. The party also collected affidavits at its office in West Palm Beach, as well as at several other law firms, gathering at least 10,000 all told. At the Lytal Reiter office, 10 stories above the Intracoastal, the papers pile up in thin cardboard boxes. Every 30 minutes, a Democratic operative arrives to courier them over to DNC lawyers in Delray Beach. It’s no accident that this is happening at Lytal Reiter. The prominent personal injury firm has backed the Democratic camp since 1941, when senior partner Lake Reiter’s father began a 32-year stint as Palm Beach County Commissioner. Lytal Reiter’s offices were good to go as soon as complaints about the ballot started streaming in Election Day morning. The firm had donated space, coffee, doughnuts and phones to the Gore-Lieberman campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort, so it was only logical to turn the office into what became the affidavit campaign’s war room, says partner Donald Fountain. As the torrent of voter protests swelled, volunteers rejoined the fight at Lytal Reiter’s office, along with Democratic National Committee operatives from Washington, D.C. and Nashville, the location of Gore’s campaign headquarters, working the phones 10 hours a day, says partner Mark Clark. The firm also loaned its staff notaries to validate affidavits, and Lytal Reiter staffers served as Democratic observers during recounts. Other law firms joining the effort included Richman Greer Weil Brumbaugh Mirabito & Christiansen in West Palm Beach and Miami, along with Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley. There are, of course, two or three Republicans among Lytal Reiter’s 15 attorneys. Says Republican partner William “Bill” Williams, who lost his bid last Friday to reclaim the conference room for the firm’s weekly lawyers luncheon: “The whole thing is confusing. It needs to be over with.” Williams appears bemused by what he sees. Nine red, white and blue Gore-Lieberman signs, each two-feet square, paper the wrap-around glass and walnut paneled walls of the morphed conference room. Phones ring incessantly and volunteers, sometimes cradling two phones at a time, document each caller’s protest. Two coffee pots, empty cups and soda cans litter the cloth-covered conference table amid piles of papers, a spaghetti tangle of phone lines and scattered pens and pencils. Clegg is one of one of five women and two men working the phones as quarreling throngs of protesters rally outside the county administration complex half a block away. The volunteers urge every caller to come in and sign on the dotted line. Hunkered down across from Clegg, cab driver Charles Meredith from Deerfield Beach, Fla., juggles two phones, putting one caller on hold. Meredith, wearing a navy blue Notre Dame baseball cap, says he volunteered his cab, driving elderly and Haitian voters to the polls. After being told that several people whom he took to the polls wasted their vote on Buchanan, he joined the effort at the Lytal Reiter offices. Their votes should count, he says. Phone volunteer David Kerner, 17, a high school junior from Atlantis, sits a couple of chairs away. There’s nothing better than being at “ground zero,” he says. The crewcut Kerner, who wears jeans and a forest green Polo sweatshirt, counsels disgruntled voters. An elderly woman calls, crying. She says she felt like an idiot, very embarrassed. “She feels betrayed. I think she was happy to hear something was going on and that she may play a role in this,” Kerner says. Most of his friends don’t care about the ballot battle, Kerner says, but his own interest in politics is strong and this makes it stronger. “It’s being a part of history,” he says. The phones keep ringing, at least 5,000 calls last Wednesday and Thursday, alone, says volunteer Paula Goodnow of Boca Raton. As Kerner picks up another call, even more people flow out of the elevator. One was Julius Mastitski, a Soviet Jewish immigrant who now lives in Jupiter, Fla., who wended his way into the war room. Educated in Moscow, with a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics, Mastitski is a naturalized U.S. citizen. “I’ve been caught, as many others, in the perfectly designed punch holes maze,” says Mastitski, who teaches computer science in West Palm Beach. “I did not give my permission to any institution to manipulate my constitutional right to make a clear vote for my candidate.” Mastitski says he punched the ballot’s second hole, thinking he was voting for Gore, only to learn that he ended up supporting Buchanan. Vowing to file a lawsuit on his own if necessary, he marches off to stand in line with nine others by the elevators, waiting his turn to sign a sworn protest. Myra Frazer of Royal Palm Beach strolls out of the elevator and sidles up behind Mastitski. Her story: She carefully studied the sample ballot. “When I entered the voting booth,” she says, “I knew I wanted to vote for Gore, the second person down. It was very vague. Knowing Gore was the second one, I punched the second hole.” But when she got home, Frazer says, she realized she had voted for Buchanan. “I felt sick and still do.” The elevator doors open again. Two middle-aged men in wheelchairs roll off and get in line with their “service animals,” two black Labrador retrievers. Fred Shotz of Fort Lauderdale and his plump pooch, Red Zeppelin, an American flag print scarf wrapped around its neck, sit patiently as five others ahead of him wait to sign affidavits. Shotz says that in the voting booth, he was too low in his wheelchair to see the ballot. Pushing up on his arms, he glanced at the ballot and punched what he thought was the second hole, intending to vote for Gore. He only later realized that he, too, had voted for Buchanan. Shotz’s buddy, Allen Preston of West Palm Beach, managed to get it right and vote for Gore. But, he says, “I’m here because I think that the ballot was at least confusing to people with visual impairments.” His oversized service dog, John T, sprawled at his side, oblivious to the surrounding tumult. Not everyone found the scene inspiring. “People were coming in left and right, some crying, screaming,” says Lea Cabral of West Palm Beach, the firm’s receptionist. At one point, as crowds of voters poured out of the elevators, a man in gray emerged, rolling the firm’s new refrigerator, a great white hulk, to the employee lounge, trundling down a corridor consumed with patriotic passion. Nice timing. Cabral’s colleagues at the firm said the receptionist “lost it,” but ultimately maintained both her composure and her sense of humor. She did, however, send out a call for help from the firm’s office services department — what one colleague called her all-points bulletin. Cabral concedes she was not a little bit distracted. “It was really overwhelming,” she says. And sometimes funny. As more and more newspaper and broadcast reporters show up to interview volunteers and Lytal Reiter staff, Jamie Medalie Longhurst fields a telephone call from senior partner Lake Lytal, who is hunting deer in Iowa with his son Lake “Trey” Lytal III. Lytal the elder recounts watching the news and suddenly seeing what appears to be his firm’s conference room on the tube. “That looks like our conference room,” father said to son. Replied Lytal the younger: “Dad, it is our conference room.”

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