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Countywide Manual Recount in Palm Beach

Sunday, 12 November 2000 12:00 AM

In a stunning development, Palm Beach County election officials announced early Sunday that they intended to begin a manual recount of all ballots cast in the county, after a sample of 4,000 ballots in four precincts begun Saturday added 19 votes to Vice President Al Gore's total. Unless blocked by a court order, elections officials will meet Monday to decide how to proceed on the full manual count.

The county election canvassing board voted 2-1 for the hand count of nearly 422,000 votes, a procedure that could take many days to complete. Florida is due to report its final vote total Friday.

Despite objections from the Republican member of the three-person county canvassing board, the career elections supervisor sided with the Democrat member, Carol Roberts, who said indications were that a full county recount could add 1,900 votes to the Gore total. In an unofficial estimate, Bush now leads Gore by fewer than 400 votes.

Speaking on "Face the Nation" on CBS, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III proposed that both sides accept the recount of Florida votes already conducted by machine only, plus the tabulation of still-incoming absentee ballots.

"We would agree to abide by the results of the count of those overseas absentee ballots provided they are counted in an appropriate and legal way, if the other side would agree to do that."

The Bush campaign expects the overseas military vote to favor its candidate. A Miami Herald survey of 17 Florida counties showed 2,975 overseas ballots had not yet been returned.

Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher rejected Baker's proposal on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"We are not prepared to do that, frankly," Christopher said. "This is the procedure called for by Florida law."

The manual recounts in four Democrat-dominated Florida counties would likely increase Gore's total.

As their advisers scrambled for every advantage, the candidates remained publicly above the fray. Gore watched "Men of Honor" at a theater Saturday night and went to church Sunday. Bush remained with vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney and other potential members of a new administration at his ranch near Waco.

The Bush campaign Saturday filed the 80-page lawsuit and motions seeking an injunction to stop manual recounts of ballots in four Florida counties that voted for Gore Tuesday.

Christopher said he expected the motion to be rejected because of reluctance by federal courts in the past to deal with state-run elections.

"We are dealing with broad questions of federal law that belong in federal court," countered Barry Richard, the lead Florida lawyer on the Bush team of attorneys. "It is implicit in the Constitution that there are some limits to what the states can do."

Baker has charged that a hand count would result in even more errors than a machine count and would be subject to partisan mischief.

In the lawsuit, Republicans argued that the constitutional rights of voters elsewhere in the state will be violated if a recount is conducted in the four counties. Treating ballots differently in different counties, the suit argues, violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

It also says manual recounts in every Florida would take so long, the state might miss the Dec. 18 deadline for casting its electoral vote. And it argues that media coverage of a changed result, even if it is overturned, would compromise the legitimacy of the potential Bush administration.

U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks will preside over the hearing starting at 9:30 a.m.

At stake are Florida's 25 electoral votes, which are likely to decide the election.

With the outcome in Florida, New Mexico and Oregon uncertain, Gore's unofficial tally of likely electoral votes stood at 255 for Gore to 246 for Bush.

Before the hand recount of four precincts in Palm Beach was completed early Sunday, Voter News Service gave Bush an edge of 331 votes in Florida. Gore gained 19 votes in the recount, and a count of write-in votes in Volusia County gave Gore five more, dropping the margin to 307.

In the three other counties:

Along with Florida, the state totals still being studied carefully were those of Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin.

In the only unresolved race for U.S. Senate, new figures from the state of Washington showed incumbent Republican Slade Gorton retaking a narrow 5,353-vote lead over Democrat Maria Cantwell. A Cantwell victory would split the Senate 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

Vote totals were extremely close in New Mexico, where counting in Bernalillo County was chaotic because of lost ballots and computer glitches. Bush took a slim lead over Gore Saturday in the fight for the state's five electoral votes after Bernalillo County - where Albuquerque is located - nearly completed its count of 67,000 ballots that were not tabulated on election night.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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In a stunning development, Palm Beach County election officials announced early Sunday that they intended to begin a manual recount of all ballots cast in the county, after a sample of 4,000 ballots in four precincts begun Saturday added 19 votes to Vice President Al...
Sunday, 12 November 2000 12:00 AM
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