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Attorney feels Gore's pain

December 13, 2000

Attorney feels Gore's pain



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - If anyone should know how Al Gore feels, it is Dave Camilletti.

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Just like the vice president in his post-campaign presidential contest, the Shepherdstown attorney went through an election contest between May 10 and Oct. 2 after finishing a handful of votes behind his opponent in the race for Berkeley County Circuit Court judge.

Berkeley County and Florida used the same voting technology in both races, officials said.

"Al Gore can't say he invented the election contest," Camilletti said with a chuckle Tuesday.

Camilletti finished 39 votes behind Gray Silver III after votes were counted in the May 9 primary election. A routine vote canvass that followed confirmed Silver as the winner.

Unused ballots went through a special recount by the Berkeley County Commission. Camilletti appealed to Circuit Court, then to the state Supreme Court. The justices declined to take the case and Camilletti pursued it no further, although he might have had a federal court appeal.

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"For the last month, there hasn't been a day when people haven't come up to me and said something about my race and the presidential race," he said. "Strangers out of the blue want to talk about it. I get letters, people wanting me to come to talk to a class about it."

Camilletti said the local and national races share many similarities.

"We discussed absentee ballots, the counting process, the machines, undervotes, ballots with chads. We even recounted every single vote by hand," he said.

Candidates and election officials even discussed "dimpled chads." Sometimes voters just barely punch the voting card, leaving a tiny dimple which may or may not mean they wanted to vote for the candidate.

"If there was a dimple, we didn't count it," he said. "There had to be some light showing."

In one case, a chad that fell out while the ballot was being examined was saved as an appeals exhibit.

There were some differences in the two contests.

"In our case, there was a real pathway, laid out clearly by the Secretary of State, and we followed that path," Camilletti said.

Unlike the acrimony that has sometimes marked the presidential dispute, Camilletti said civility existed between him and Silver.

"In my opinion Gray ... was a standup guy throughout the whole thing," he said.

Citing judicial ethics that apply to judges, Silver said he could not comment for this story.

Camilletti acknowledged some people thought he was pressing his case too hard - that after a certain point he should have acknowledged defeat and not be seen as a sore loser - an accusation leveled at Gore.

"I got some of that," he said. "We knew it existed. But I didn't get a lot of pressure to get out from the general population. For the most part, people patted me on the back and said 'Keep fighting. It's a good fight.'"

Camilletti's main reaction to the presidential contest?

"I felt vindicated in just having pursued my effort, seeing to what lengths the contest is playing out nationally," he said. "It just shows what I did was certainly warranted under the circumstances"

He said he was also gratified that people who went through the ordeal with him can see it meant something because the scene has been replayed nationally.

"They tell me 'What we went through in your contest is what we are watching on TV,'" he said.

And the contest did lead to needed election changes in the county, he said.

Camilletti, before the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling, said Gore should accept the decision, no matter what his feelings.

"I never conceded," he said. "The court told me to go away. Once the Supreme Court tells you you are done, there's no place else to go."

He added: "In my opinion, I don't believe ultimate statesmanship requires (Gore) concede his position. But he and others have to honor decisions made within the judicial system."

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