After reviewing more than 64,000 ballots in all 67 of Florida's counties, USA Today, the Miami Herald and its parent company, Knight Ridder, said that Bush's 537-vote margin of victory over Democrat Al Gore would have increased to 1,665 votes under the counting standards advocated by Gore.
"In the end, I think we probably confirmed that President Bush should have been president of the United States," said Mark Seibel, the Herald's managing editor. "I think that it was worthwhile because so many people had questions about how the ballots had been handled and how the process had worked."
The study is the first comprehensive review of the "undervote" ballots that were at the center of Florida's disputed presidential election.
The undervotes were ballots on which voting machines did not record a vote.
Bush and Gore were informed Tuesday of the new study's results. Both declined comment. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "The president believes, just as the American people do, that this election was settled months ago. The voters spoke, and George W. Bush won."
The Herald, though, also said that canvassing boards in Palm Beach and Broward counties threw out hundreds of ballots that had marks that were no different from ballots deemed to be valid. The paper claimed that Gore would be in the White House today had those ballots been counted.
Bob Poe, chairman of Florida's Democratic Party, said the Herald's review showed that many official tallies were incomplete and inaccurate.
"My feeling is still that more people went to the polls to vote for Al Gore than went to vote for George W. Bush, and that some really bad things happened,'' Poe told The Miami Herald. "This tells us that the system has some major flaws that need to be improved. We cannot continue to have this kind of ambiguity in an election.''
USA Today's analysis focused exclusively on what might have happened if the recount had been allowed to continue.
USA Today, the Miami Herald and Knight Ridder newspapers hired the national accounting firm BDO Seidman to examine undervote ballots in Florida's 67 counties. The accountants provided a report on what they found on each of the ballots.
The Democrat-dominated Florida Supreme Court ordered Dec. 8 that each of these ballots, which registered no presidential vote when run through counting machines, be examined by hand to determine whether a voter's "intent" could be discerned – even on ballots that were not legal votes. On Dec. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the hand count before it was completed. That gave Bush Florida's 25 electoral votes, one more than he needed to win the presidency.
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