By CATHERINE WILSON
MIAMI – Miami-Dade County began a recount of 654,000 presidential ballots by hand today despite contentions by Republicans that the process was unfair and subject to tampering.
“Inevitably these counts alter, change, put at risk the actual ballots each time they are counted,” Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said before the county canvassing board reconvened. “It is extremely disturbing.”
Republicans were seeking a hearing in circuit court to argue against the recount, but nothing was scheduled. On Sunday, a judge rejected a request by backers of George W. Bush to stop the process.
Miami-Dade County used the machines Sunday to begin sorting punch-card ballots, separating those with clear punch holes from ballots in question.
The so-called “undervotes,” ballots on which no vote was registered by the machines, were getting the most attention. The sorting process, using the same machines that counted ballots after the Nov. 7 presidential election, was intended to set aside those undervotes so the board could scrutinize them. The board did not want the regular teams of counters to use their discretion in determining if a vote was a vote.
More than 28,000 ballots were thrown out in the first machine counting on election night, including 10,750 undervote ballots.
Twenty-five crews began counting the clearly punched ballots this morning. Workers were sorting ballots onto 12 8 1/2-by-11 sheets of paper, which had been taped to the table to separate the ballots cast for the 10 presidential candidates, ballots with no vote for president and ballots with more than one vote for president. The stacks take up the entire width of each table, like a giant gameboard in front of each elections worker.
Republicans argued that workers were too rough with the ballots and that machines also were affecting the ballots, causing chads – the tiny pieces of paper punched out of ballots during a vote – to fall.
“The machine has an obvious effect on the chads and disturbs the integrity of the ballots,” said Republican observer Tom Spargo.
But Democratic observer Jay Myerson said he saw no such problems. The workers handled the ballots “with the care they deserved; they were not manhandled,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said today he was disturbed by the criticism aimed at the election crews. He said Republicans have depicted the hand count crews “as being somewhere between incompetent and corrupt.”
“They ought to be praised, not disparaged,” Graham said. He also said he hoped the state Supreme Court would order a full hand recount in every Florida county.
Ballots from 502 of Miami-Dade’s 614 precincts in Miami were sorted Sunday. The rest of the resorting was to be completed later in the week, said David Leahy, county supervisor of elections and a member of the canvassing board.
He said if the board followed procedures the Republicans suggested, “We won’t finish until well after Jan. 20 if we did that.”
“It is not our intention to hold up every ballot front and back. There’s simply not enough time,” he said.
Teams of counters from each party were to handle the task. Leahy, who has no political affiliation, has said he hopes the entire recounting will be complete by Dec. 1.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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