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To Citizens, Republican Charges on Hand Count Don't Add Up

Sunday, 19 November 2000 12:00 AM

The canvassing board has allowed citizens to view the hand count process, first hand, from an observation room.

Sue Gunn is a Republican from Richmond, Va., vacationing in Florida with her daughter Sandy. Sue came to see the hand count after hearing alarming reports in the media voiced by Republicans that the process was out of control. Instead, she said, she saw what looked like an orderly system.

"I was worried because of what I saw on TV. Now I am more at ease. There are a lot of checks and balances going on," Gunn said.

Robert Jolley is a Canadian developer in West Palm Beach for business, but stopped by the center out of the same curiosity. He said after viewing the counting operation he is "absolutely" convinced that it will result in a highly accurate tally of the county's ballots. Jolley said if he could have voted in the election in the United States he "probably" would have voted for Gore.

"It looked very antiseptic to me. It is going to be accurate," Jolley said.

Inside, 30 teams – each consisting of two counters, one Republican and one Democrat – slowly went through the piles of 462,644 ballots. One Republican and one Democratic observer peered over each team's shoulders to object to any decision by the counters. The three-panel county canvassing board makes final decisions on any questionable ballots.

But Republicans have decried the process. They held a press conference outside the counting center on Saturday, claiming it was flawed. Republicans said the hand count in West Palm Beach and in nearby Broward County were essentially out of control. They claimed "chads" were all over the floor, that Bush ballots had been placed in the Gore pile, that counters were fanning themselves with ballots, and even that some chads had been put back in place with Scotch tape.

Mark Wallace, a GOP attorney overseeing the recount process in West Palm Beach, said, "We are not making any accusations here. What we are saying is that there is a flaw in the process."

"We have found some Bush votes in Gore piles," said Jim Williams, a Republican overseeing the hand count in Palm Beach. "I would say that the observer program is not working at all. There is a flaw in the process."

Jeff Kahrs, another GOP observer, announced that "the system is fraught with human error."

Republicans sent emissaries, including former Republican Sen. Bob Dole, to the Sunday talk shows to reiterate the claims. On ABC's "This Week with Sam Donaldson," Montana Republican Gov. Mark Racicot called the Democrats' actions "an effort to win at any cost."

"The Democrats have launched a statewide effort to throw out as many military ballots as they can," Racicot said.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., on Donaldson's program debunked Republican accusations that his campaign circulated memos that instructed poll workers how to disqualify military votes.

"And they were just a description of what the law is. The ultimate decision was made by the elected official, the official who was in charge of voting in that county," Lieberman said.

But citizens interviewed said Sunday that at least while they were watching, the process didn't look like that.

Rekha Vyas is a Democrat from West Palm Beach who came to see the count.

"I didn't see any of that. I didn't see anything wrong," she said.

Her daughter Angie blamed the news media.

"I don't want to discredit the media, but they are making something out of nothing," she said. "It seems to me to be very well organized."

Elmer and Donna Winfrey, also Democrats, from Salinas, Calif., are vacationing in Palm Beach.

"I was really wondering before we came," Mrs. Winfrey said. "But I was impressed with the way they have it set up."

Counters themselves said, on condition of anonymity, they felt Republicans were trying to throw a monkey wrench into the process. One counter said that on Saturday the Republican looking over her shoulder objected to every single ballot she placed in the Gore stack, regardless of how it looked.

Canvassing board chairman Charles Burton blamed the two parties.

"Every reporter I have talked to [who has observed the process] has been pretty impressed. It is only the two parties that are saying anything about it."

Burton said there were a handful of ballots where chads had been put back in place with tape. But he said all of those were absentee ballots where voters had only one copy of a ballot and clearly changed their mind or made a mistake and didn't have another copy of the ballot. Still, Burton said, the board did not count those ballots.

"Those are really the absentee ballots," Burton said. "And it is really not causing a problem."

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The canvassing board has allowed citizens to view the hand count process, first hand, from an observation room. Sue Gunn is a Republican from Richmond, Va., vacationing in Florida with her daughter Sandy. Sue came to see the hand count after hearing alarming reports in...
Sunday, 19 November 2000 12:00 AM
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