Election remains mired
to fight alleged voting irregularities; in Florida, the election will probably
hinge on absentee ballots
By Jim Parsons
Daily Cougar Staff
America continued holding its collective
breath Thursday as an incomplete recount of Florida ballots indicated the
narrowest of margins between the top presidential contenders.
The official tally Thursday evening showed
Gov. George W. Bush leading Vice President Al Gore by 1,784 votes with
53 of 67 counties reporting. An unofficial tally from The Associated Press
gave Bush a lead of 225 votes with all but two counties reporting.
The state set a Tuesday deadline for final
recounts, but it seems the victor in Florida will not be determined until
Nov. 17, when absentee votes will be counted. No one knows how many absentee
ballots are on their way to Florida; in 1996, there were 2,300, a majority
of them for the Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole.
But without a clear winner Thursday, tension
over the Florida vote continued to increase. The Gore campaign said it
would demand hand recounts of 1.78 million ballots in four counties and
aligned itself with voters in Palm Beach County who claim a confusing ballot
caused them to accidentally vote for Reform Party candidate Patrick J.
Buchanan rather than Gore.
The ballot was arranged with candidates'
names on both sides of a center line of voting punch holes. Arrows aligned
the candidates with the appropriate holes, but some voters claim the layout
was too confusing.
"It was virtually impossible to know who
you voted for," voter Mark Hirsch told MSNBC.
Still, poll workers said they made special
efforts to let people know about the ballots. Kevin Lanning, a Democratic
Party volunteer, told WPBF-TV in Palm Beach he spent most of Tuesday handing
out flyers alerting voters that the ballot was on facing pages, and officials
in Palm Beach County instructed poll workers to urge voters to read the
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat,
told the Fox News Network he felt the ballot was clear.
"It needs to be pointed out that this ballot
went through the Florida legal process. The Democrat supervisor of elections
and both parties in Palm Beach County approved it," Hastings said. "It
was published in the newspaper, and no one raised any complaints about
this ballot before the election."
Clay Roberts, director of the Florida Department
of Elections, agreed.
"I don't think (voters) are confused,"
he said. "I think they left the polling place and became confused."
Two lawsuits in Florida courts are calling
for a revote in the county, but analysts said it is doubtful a judge would
support such a drastic measure. Also unlikely is that chance Washington
will get involved in the controversy, as election law is largely set by
the states. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said Thursday she would review
federal election complaints on a case-by-case basis.
Democrats also complained about officials'
discarding 19,120 Palm Beach County ballots on which more than one candidate
had been selected, accusing election officials of impeding the democratic
But James A. Baker III, former secretary
of state and Bush's chief representative in the recount, said tossing out
ballots with more than one selection is commonplace.
"There's not a jurisdiction in this democracy
of ours that doesn't disqualify ballots where a voter votes twice for one
office," Baker told reporters.
Further complicating the recount is the
fact that the ballot tabulation machines, which scan hundreds of the punch-card
ballots per minute, are not infallible. The only way to achieve an accurate
count would likely be to count all the ballots by hand.
Moreover, the Florida recount may not be
the only one conducted. Close margins were also reported in Iowa, Wisconsin,
New Mexico and New Hampshire. The vote also promises to be close in Oregon,
which is not yet finished tabulating its ballots.