November 12, 2000
Election officials call for full hand recount in Palm Beach County Vote
At a press conference early Sunday, Palm Beach County officials voted to hand count all ballots cast in the county in Tuesday's presidential election
Injunction would stop hand recounts
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Palm Beach County election officials voted early Sunday to order a manual recount of all votes cast in the county during last week's presidential election.
A full recount would involve reviewing more than 400,000 ballots by hand in one of South Florida's most populous counties. It was not immediately clear when such a recount would take place -- because Republicans are challenging recounts in Florida.
Appearing before reporters about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, the county's three-person canvassing board voted 2 to 1 to ask for the hand recount after reviewing hundreds of ballots checked in four sample precincts in Palm Beach County.
They had been asked by Democratic Vice President Al Gore's campaign to check for possible instances in which tabulation machines had failed to note marked ballots.
Members Carol Roberts, a county commissioner, and Theresa LePore, the county's supervisor of elections, approved the motion for the full recount. Board chairman and Palm Beach County Judge Charles Burton voted against the motion because he said he preferred to first seek an advisory legal opinion from state authorities.
Also Sunday, Volusia County was expected to begin a hand recount, while Broward and Miami-Dade Counties planned to begin similar efforts early next week.
Bush leads by several hundred votes
Roberts made the motion because she said the board's sample hand review Saturday indicated the possibility that hundreds of voters' ballots had not been counted last week.
The daylong and unofficial count found 33 more votes for Gore in the four precincts. Bush gained 14 votes.
In Florida, where more than 5.8 million votes were cast for president, Bush's lead is just a few hundred votes, Roberts said. The race for U.S. president hinges on who wins Florida and garners its 25 electoral votes.
"Given the importance of the election and the fact that the present margin is approximately 300 votes in the state, I believe the people of Palm Beach County have entrusted us with the power to voice their right to participate in their government," Roberts said.
Democratic officials present during the count encouraged the board's review. Republicans spoke against it, arguing it was a "painful" and "uncertain" process.
The board also agreed to meet again Monday to discuss the issue further.
It was unclear how soon the process could begin. The Bush campaign filed papers Saturday in federal court seeking to halt manual recounts in Florida, and a judge is set to consider the request Monday.
The manual counting process began about 2 p.m. EDT Saturday. Election workers sorted through the ballots, checking for anomalies such as partially punched cards.
Potentially problematic ballots then were gathered into one pile, where canvassing board members scrutinized them. Sometimes, the board held them up to the light, checking for marks that would indicate a voter had tried to punch the name of one candidate or another.
Several thousand ballots in Palm Beach County had been mechanically rejected last week because machines could not detect punched votes in the cards.
Bush challenges hand count
Also Saturday, the Gore campaign condemned the legal challenge filed by Bush seeking to stop hand recounts of presidential votes in Florida.
Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who is observing the Florida recount on Gore's behalf, called on the Bush campaign to drop its bid for an injunction.
"We call upon the Bush campaign to withdraw the litigation they have filed today and to allow a new and accurate count to be made of all the votes in the state of Florida," Christopher told reporters.
Bush held a news conference at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and referred questions about the Florida dispute to Republican election observer and former Secretary of State James Baker.
Earlier Saturday, Baker argued that manual counting would be subject to "human error, individual subjectivity and decisions to determine the voters' intent" that would not occur if machines were used.
"Machines are neither Republicans nor Democrats and therefore can never be consciously or even unconsciously biased," Baker said.
Campaign officials for Vice President Gore, however, claimed that Republicans had agreed to a hand count Friday in Seminole County, Florida, which was overseen by a Republican congressman. Americans would "reject Mr. Bush's arrogant stance," a Gore official said.
Bush said his campaign would "be willing to withdraw that lawsuit" if the Gore campaign dropped its request for a hand recount.
"There are still absentee ballots to be counted," the Texas governor said. "And this election will be determined after those absentee ballots have been counted. We've counted once and we recounted in Florida."
Overseas absentee ballots will be counted until November 17, as long as they were postmarked by November 7, Election Day. Those votes, which include a large number of military personnel, have traditionally leaned toward the Republican candidate.
"It would be good for this country to have this election over so that the new administration can do the people's business," said Bush, who appeared with vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, and former Transportation Secretary Andrew Card.
Both sides weigh other options
Gore did not appear in public during the day, instead dispatching Christopher and William Daley, his campaign chairman, to speak with reporters outside the vice president's official residence.
"The hand count can be completed expeditiously and it should be," said Christopher, who admitted that the Gore camp was looking into other options.
"Until today the Bush campaign has argued every minute counts. We have constantly maintained however, as we continue today that every vote must count."
With the presidency hanging in the balance, Florida's vote -- remarkably close and fiercely contested -- is virtually certain to tip the electoral tally.
Pending the outcome of the legal challenge, the voting dispute could very well spread to other parts of the country where local Republicans have indicated an eagerness to challenge narrow Gore victories. A recount in one New Mexico county has moved the state, which was declared for the Democratic candidate on Election Night, back into the undecided column.
GOP officials have also cited voting irregularities in Wisconsin, a state Gore won by less than 6,000 votes. Some have called on Bush to request recounts in Iowa and Oregon as well.
"All options are open," Bush told reporters at his ranch.
Palm Beach County under court order
An unofficial tally of the recount in Florida's 67 counties showed the Texas governor with a 327-vote lead over the vice president in the state. State officials said their recount of 66 counties showed Bush leading by 960 votes. Palm Beach County is the 67th.
Florida elections officials hold ballots up to the light as they conduct a manual recount Saturday
The deadline for requesting a manual recount for the 53 Florida counties that have already been certified by the state passed Friday night. The state's 14 remaining counties, including Palm Beach, can still request manual recounts of Tuesday's results.
Palm Beach County is under a court order not to certify results before Tuesday. The order, handed down by Circuit Judge Kathleen Kroll, is the result of one of eight lawsuits filed by voters who say a faulty ballot design may have caused them to vote inadvertently for Pat Buchanan when they intended to cast ballots for Gore.
The Republican lawsuit to halt the recount was assigned to U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks, a Clinton appointee, in Palm Beach County.
Florida official fears 'meltdown'
Florida's top election official warned the state's counties and the presidential candidates Saturday against prolonging the recount, saying the system is about to "melt down."
Bob Crawford, who replaced Gov. Jeb Bush as commissioner of Florida's Canvassing Commission, said Saturday that if a county misses the state's deadline for certifying results, the entire county's vote will be thrown out.
"The statute is very clear that if a county's results are not to us by 5 p.m. Tuesday we shall ignore that county's vote, and the counties need to be very aware of that," Crawford told reporters. "Candidates asking for recounts need to be aware of that."
Crawford also stressed that he believed the system is being pressed to its limits.
"You've got boxes of ballots right now in Florida that will determine the next president of the United States probably sitting in some closet in somebody's office in some very small counties," he continued. "How long can that go on and how long can we risk the integrity of those ballots? So we've got to move this thing."
With feelings running high, hundreds of Floridians who complain that their votes may not have been counted Election Day gathered Saturday to tell their stories at a public hearing organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Miami.
In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Clinton, a Democrat, cautioned patience as the recount proceeds in Florida.
"The people have spoken," he said. "The important thing for all of us to remember now is that a process for resolving the discrepancies and challenges to the election is in motion. The rest of us need to be patient and wait for the results."
CNN.com Writer Mike Ferullo, CNN Correspondents Mike Boettcher, Candy Crowley, Patty Davis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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