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Gore, Bush Supporters Square Off

Sunday, 19 November 2000 12:00 AM

Texas Gov. George W. Bush's slim lead of 930 votes out of 6 million cast in Florida has intensified arguments over the recounting of votes that might put Democratic Vice President Al Gore in the lead.

The Florida Supreme Court scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Monday on whether Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was within her rights when she ruled Wednesday that hand recounts of ballots in three heavily Democratic Florida counties would be excluded from the state's final vote count. After the tabulation of absentee ballots, the Florida total showed Bush with a 930-vote lead over Gore. But nearly 40 percent of the overseas ballots had been rejected.

Vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., made appearances on Sunday morning talk shows urging state officials to make sure that military absentee ballots were counted fairly -- but that voter intent should play a role in how ballots are counted.

Florida officials accepted 2,206 overseas absentee ballots but rejected another 1,420 -- 39 percent of the total. Most of the ballots rejected by county canvassing boards were disqualified for being postmarked after the Nov. 7 election. Officials said most of the overseas absentee ballots were from military personnel.

Also at the center of debate were two memos. One supposedly was circulated by a Democratic consultant that suggested using technicalities such as late postmarks and improperly placed signatures as a way to disqualify military absentee ballots. A second memo supposedly from Republicans explained how poll workers could defend ballots in question.

But lawyers for the Democrats said Sunday that decisions on which ballots were counted were being made on a case-by-case basis by mostly Republican county officials. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said an atmosphere of hypersensitivity existed in Florida surrounding absentee ballots because of a mayor's race in 1998 where absentee ballots were questioned.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," commentator Tim Russert asked Lieberman about the Democratic memo allegedly written by an attorney assisting the Gore campaign.

"Let me just say that the vice president and I would never authorize and would not tolerate a campaign that was aimed specifically at invalidating absentee votes from members of our armed services, and I've been assured that there were more absentee ballots from non-military voters that were ultimately disqualified," Lieberman said.

Lieberman stopped short of saying he would ask Florida counties to review ballots from armed services personnel and waive irregularities or technicalities that would disqualify them such as late postmarks or misplaces signatures.

"But on the substance of it, yeah, we ought to do everything we can to count votes of our military personnel overseas, and I hope that's what the election officials did in various counties," Lieberman said.

Lieberman would not say the Gore campaign would stop legal maneuvering if the Florida court decided against them.

"It's not for me to say at this point that any option is off the table," Lieberman said. But speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," former Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., said he would accept whatever decision the Florida Supreme Court hands down.

"Yes, I agree with that. I also agree that it should have happened a long time ago. I personally believe if the thing shouldn't have been litigated to begin with," Baker said.

Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who spoke on behalf of the Bush campaign, appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" and denied allegations from critics that Republicans were attempting to steal the election.

"I think it's much too early to tell what the intention is. But, we sure know what the state of play is. Governor Bush won the election on election night, the count, he won the machine recount, he won the overseas ballots, and he looks to be in pretty good shape overall," Thornburgh said.

On CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields", Sen. Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., attributed the Bush campaign's stepped up attacks on the recounts in Florida as a sign of fear.

"Well my theory is that they're probably getting scared. They're probably concerned right now as we count these absentee ballots and as we count now the ballots to completely understand what the voters intended…. They are at their high water mark right now. We're going to start seeing that margin erode over the next couple of days," Daschle said.

Both Democrats and Republicans agreed the country was not in a crisis and concerns that the election in Florida has essentially been spoiled were premature. Daschle said on "Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields" that charges of a tainted election in Florida should be avoided.

"I think we have to be real careful about charges like that. This is a process that's been used historically. It's used in every single state. There is nothing unusual with the way Florida is counting its ballots right now. I know I went through this every thing in South Dakota many years ago."

Baker explained on "Face the Nation" that a candidate for the presidency has the obligation to try to win and, at the same time preserve the legitimacy of the succession.

"I don't think we're in crisis status, but I do think people are sort of fed up with this," Baker said.


Copyright 2000 by United Press International.

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Texas Gov. George W. Bush's slim lead of 930 votes out of 6 million cast in Florida has intensified arguments over the recounting of votes that might put Democratic Vice President Al Gore in the lead. The Florida Supreme Court scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Monday on...
Sunday, 19 November 2000 12:00 AM
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