Unused butterfly ballots (search) left over from the 2000 presidential election are not public records and can be destroyed, a state appeals court ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal denied an appeal by two voters who wanted the ballots to be preserved.

"Nothing could be more obvious than that a ballot becomes a public record once it is voted," Chief Judge Charles J. Kahn Jr. wrote in the ruling issued Thursday. "For purposes of the public records analysis, however, the unused ballots, en masse, are no different than cases of blank paper held in a government office."

Judges Michael E. Allen and Peter D. Webster concurred.

A message left Friday at Farmer's office in Weston was not immediately returned.

Under Florida law, election supervisors can either keep unused ballots or destroy them with the permission of the Division of Elections.

Julian Pleasants, a University of Florida history professor and author of the book "Hanging Chads (search): The Inside Story of the 2000 Presidential Recount in Florida," had testified for the plaintiffs that different styles of punch-cards used by a dozen counties in the 2000 election had historical value and would be studied for decades.

Such arguments are outside the court's purview, Kahn wrote.

"The question of whether these ballots, as artifacts of the 2000 presidential election (search), have historical, sociological, or political import is not before us, and could never be before a court," he wrote. "This is a pure policy determination, better left in the hands of the legislative branch or the executive branch."

The five-week court battle over disputed ballots kept the outcome of the 2000 presidential election up in the air until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that gave President Bush the state by a 537-vote margin.