Officials order full recount in disputed Florida county

By KARIN MEADOWS

Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Palm Beach County officials ordered an extraordinary countywide recount, by hand, of the more than 425,000 votes cast in the presidential election for Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Gore added 36 votes and Bush lost three in a machine recount of Palm Beach County in Florida’s disputed presidential balloting. A hand count of selected precincts turned up enough errors in the election night vote to prompt county election officials to order a complete recount by hand. The vote early today was 2-1.

“This clearly would affect the national vote,” said Carol Roberts, a county commissioner and a member of the canvassing commission.

Election officials said their exhaustive manual recount found numerous differences from the machine count. Roberts said the errors point to potentially 1,900 errors county wide – more than the existing statewide margin between Bush and Gore.

At stake is no less than the presidency, since Florida will deliver 25 electoral votes.

The new machine tabulation, the third in this populous Democratic-leaning county, gave Gore 269,732, or an add of 36 votes, and Bush 152,951, or minus three.

County election officials will meet again Monday to discuss further action. It was not clear when the labor intensive examination of ballots in all 531 precincts would begin.

County Judge Charles Burton said that he wanted to obtain an advisory opinion from the secretary of state before proceeding with a hand count.

A lawyer for the Republican Party, Mark Wallace, objected to a further manual recount.

“It has been pandemonium today,” he said. “We vigorously lodge our protest and plead with you not to put the county through that.”

Earlier Saturday, Republicans sent the 2000 presidential race into the federal courts at the same time election officials in one of Florida’s 67 counties ordered a complete laborious recount by hand sought by Vice President Al Gore. “We’re all in limbo,” said George W. Bush at the end of a week of unprecedented political turmoil.

A federal judge set a hearing for Monday in Miami on the Bush campaign’s request for a court order blocking the manual recounts from continuing in Florida’s improbably close vote.

The Texas governor holds a narrow lead after an unofficial recount, with an unknown number of overseas ballots yet to be counted. The winner of the state stands to gain an electoral college majority and become the nation’s 43rd president.

The GOP suit cited a need to “preserve the integrity, equality, and finality” of the vote. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, said that with a manual recount, “human error, individual subjectivity, and decisions to, quote, ‘determine the voters’ intent,’ close quote, would replace precision machinery in tabulating millions of small marks and fragile hole punches.”

Democrats responded forcefully a few hours later, calling for the withdrawal of the suit and expressing confidence they would prevail in court. “The hand count can be completed expeditiously and it should be,” said former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, speaking on Gore’s behalf. He added that Bush, as governor of Texas, had signed legislation in 1997 specifying that hand recounts be used to settle certain disputed elections – a position at odds with the current stated preferences of the GOP high command.

The recount in Palm Beach County finished in the middle of the night. County officials, on a 2-1 vote, ordered a full recount by hand of the balloting after discovering more errors in a painstaking review of several precincts. Gore supporters claimed a poorly designed ballot may have caused them to vote inadvertently for Pat Buchanan.

Carol Roberts, a county commissioner and a member of the canvassing commission, argued for the labor intensive manual count of all 531 precincts, saying the errors found thus far “clearly would affect the national vote.”

A lawyer for the Republican Party, Mark Wallace, objected. “We vigorously lodge our protest and plead with you not to put the county through that.”

Gore emerged from his residence later Saturday to take in a movie, “Men of Honor,” with running mate Joseph Lieberman and their wives.

“We’re not giving interviews, we’re just on a double date,” Gore said when asked by a reporter about the election saga.

The unsettled situation in Florida held the candidates and their supporters in suspense and the nation in thrall, and sent the 2000 election on an unpredictable course.

Republican strategists, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that pending the outcome of the legal challenge, they were considering challenging narrow Gore victories in Wisconsin, Oregon or elsewhere, or possibly seeking recounts in additional counties in the Sunshine State.

“All options are open, of course” Bush told reporters at his ranch outside Waco, Texas, running mate Dick Cheney at his side.

Christopher, asked later how far he was willing to go legally, offered a noncommittal response. “We’ve been considering various other options,” he said. “No decision’s been reached.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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