Friday, November 10, 2000 Volume 66, Issue 59



Election remains mired in conflict

Democrats pledge 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 ballot carefully.

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 process.

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.

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