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News organizations continue ballot review, Gore gains votes

Several Florida and national media outlets carry on with inspections in Broward County, while one newspaper finds Gore gains in ballots rejected by Lake County.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000

News organizations resumed their recount of disputed presidential votes in Broward County on Tuesday, and Gov. Jeb Bush said he wasn't sure what good it would do.

Reporters from news organizations including the Associated Press and several Florida and national newspapers continued a preliminary inspection of the disputed Broward ballots in Fort Lauderdale to determine whether a full statewide review would be feasible. The various news organizations and Judicial Watch were splitting a $300-an-hour fee being charged by the county for the recount.

The process was slow. As of Tuesday afternoon, about 871 ballots out of 6,600 votes had been viewed. The count was then suspended until after Jan. 1.

In Tallahassee, Bush said Tuesday he wasn't sure what the media review would accomplish. "Everyone will have their own conclusion and I'm not sure all this is going to solve anything," he said.

Elsewhere, the Orlando Sentinel inspected more than 6,000 discarded presidential ballots in Lake County and found 130 more votes for Vice President Al Gore.

Lake County, in Central Florida west of the Orlando area, uses so-called "bubble" ballots, on which voters indicate their choices by filling in ovals with a pencil. The review by the newspaper found 376 rejected ballots in which the voter filled in an oval next to Gore's name but also mistakenly filled in another oval next to a spot reserved for write-in candidates, writing in Gore's name there as well. Another 246 such ballots showing clear votes for Bush also were thrown out.

The Sentinel review also found, but did not count, hundreds more questionable ballots that machines tossed aside or that local election officials deemed invalid.

On some of those rejected ballots, the voter penciled in ovals next to more than one candidate, but then tried to erase one. Others voted for more than one candidate but then made X's through one or more names -- leaving it unclear whether they meant to select the candidates who were X'ed out or those who weren't.

On other double-voted ballots, the voters' intention was spelled out, however awkwardly: Some made notations next to one of the votes, such as "no," "wrong one," "mistake" and "not."

Democrats said the media's inspection of the ballots was fair game.

"The people of Florida are eager to find out who actually won," said Bob Poe, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. "If the Republicans had allowed the votes to be counted, we wouldn't have to go through this process."

In Orange County, elections officials said they would make ballots available today if news media organizations that made public records requests called in advance Tuesday. As of Tuesday afternoon, those organizations had not called, said Margaret Dunn, senior deputy elections supervisor.

Dunn estimated that the separation of the county's 282,529 ballots, including 966 undervotes and more than 1,300 overvotes, would take about 40 days.

In Hillsborough County, a ballot review was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday, said Darrell Smith, director of operations and support for Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio.

News organizations will only see about 5,500 undervotes out of the 369,000 total ballots. Smith said he expected the process to take two six-hour days.

In Leon County the elections supervisor's office plans to post 176 rejected ballots on its Web site by 5 p.m. today, said assistant supervisor Janet Olin.

Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties conducted manual recounts last month after they were requested by Gore, but Broward was the only one to finish by the Nov. 26 deadline.

- The Orlando Sentinel contributed to this report.

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