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    Other counts continue

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


    The Miami Herald, USA Today, Knight Ridder newspapers review of presidential ballots is not the last word on what happened in Florida on Nov. 7. A second, larger group of media companies, including the St. Petersburg Times, soon will release data on their own independent review of the ballots in the state.

    That review is different from the Herald's.

    First, while the Herald/USA Today ballot examination was conducted by accountants, whose work was then compared with independent assessments by reporters, the larger group has hired an independent contractor with experience in conducting mass surveys. The National Opinion Research Center, an affiliate of the University of Chicago, has created several teams to look at the ballots cast in all 67 Florida counties.

    The NORC teams are now finishing their work in Palm Beach and a couple of other counties, looking at about 180,000 ballots statewide on which tabulating machines either registered no vote for president (undervotes) or more than one vote (overvotes). Though the Herald is now examining overvotes too, the data published today only measures undervotes, the ballots the Florida Supreme Court ordered examined before the U.S. Supreme Court intervened.

    The NORC representatives are not trying to determine voter intent, or determine whether the ballots they review represent valid votes for president. Instead, using a coding sheet for each ballot, they are describing what each looks like, such as where there are marks on optical scan ballots, or where a chad has been partially or fully punched on punch card ballots.

    When they are finished, NORC will make the data available to the media companies paying more than $500,000 for the review. In addition to the St. Petersburg Times, the group includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN-Time magazine, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post.

    After a period of exclusive use by the media companies, and the publication of stories about the data, the information will be made available through the Internet to scholars, other journalists and the public. The project should be completed sometime in May.

    A complete report on NORC's methodology and the progress of the ballot review can be found on the Internet at www.norc.uchicago.edu/homepage.htm.

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