Beliefnet
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 (AP) -- Aides to George W. Bush hailed a count of overseas absentee ballots that padded his lead in Florida Saturday to 930 votes over Al Gore. They then set out to discredit ongoing hand recounts in three Democratic-leaning counties, all but accusing Democrats of using the process to manufacture votes for Gore.

``We now have clear and compelling evidence from eye witnesses that this manual recount process is fundamentally flawed and it's no longer recounting, but is distorting, reinventing, and miscounting true intentions of voters of Florida,'' Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes said in nationally televised comments.

Hughes said Florida's votes have been recounted in some counties several times. In a written statement, she said: ``We are hopeful that once the Florida Supreme Court has heard arguments in this case, the laws of Florida will prevail and the election will be certified.''

On CNN, Gore campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway defended the hand recounts. ``Given the scrutiny that has been brought to bear, everyone ought to be comfortable with the outcome,'' he said.

All eyes were on the state's Supreme Court, which has prohibited the Florida secretary of state from certifying final results without the court's permission. The justices have set oral arguments for Monday.

Hand recounts resumed Saturday in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

In Miami-Dade County, Republicans objected to a plan by the canvassing board to put each of the area's 654,000 punch-card ballots through a machine on Sunday before starting a hand recount on Monday.

David Leahy, supervisor of elections, said the process could take two weeks even with 25 teams of two counters working 12 hours each day to complete the manual recount, taking a break only on Thanksgiving Day.

``Our goal is to complete a counting by Friday, December 1,'' he said.

With all of Florida's 67 counties reporting their overseas ballot results, the Florida secretary of state boosted Bush's overall lead in the state to 930 votes. Overall, Bush picked up 1,380 votes from the overseas ballots and Gore got 750.

At stake is Florida's pivotal 25 electoral votes, which will provide either Bush or Gore the margin needed to win the White House.

Bush spokeswoman Hughes tried to cast doubt on the validity of the hand recounts under way in predominantly Democratic areas.

``As our observers report numerous problems with that count, we continue to be concerned that the manual recount of ballots that have already been machine counted several times is flawed and subject to human error,'' she said.

Palm Beach County, which resumed a manual recount of its 462,350 ballots Saturday morning, hoped to finish within six days. Broward County officials did the same, and said they were hoping to finish recounting their 588,000 ballots by 5 p.m. Monday.

``We can probably do it'' if no legal challenges are filed, said Broward County Judge Robert W. Lee, a Democratic member of the county's canvassing board.

In DeLand, Fla., Seminole County Democrats were in court seeking to have 4,700 absentee ballots thrown out. In a lawsuit filed Friday, Democrats claimed the county's elections supervisor incorrectly let Republicans alter the signed absentee ballot request forms by inserting voter identification numbers.

``The one constant is that things are changing, minute by minute,'' Hughes told reporters Friday.

It was, if anything, an understated description of a tumultuous day on which one court handed Bush a victory, then two others favored Gore; and a day on which overseas absentee ballots boosted the Texas governor while the vice president gained ground from contested manual recounts in heavily Democratic counties.

Controversy was a constant companion. More than a thousand absentee ballots were thrown out Friday, and Republicans accused Democrats of mounting an organized effort to nullify votes cast by members of the armed forces.

Even so, the day's outcome, much to the Gore campaign's delight, was to block plans by the Florida secretary of state to certify Bush the winner based only on overseas votes, and to allow the manual recounts to continue over the weekend in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Roughly 1.6 million ballots were cast in those areas on Election Day.

The overall returns do not include the results of the disputed hand recounts sought by Democrats in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Broward has given Gore an additional 48 votes so far, while Bush picked up four votes in four Palm Beach precincts.

In Vietnam, during a brief farewell ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi, President Clinton joked with Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong about the still unresolved election. ``I have to go home to see if there's a president,'' Clinton said.

In another closely contested state, New Mexico and its five electoral votes went Friday to Gore, a winner by 481 votes out of more than 590,000 cast. With his slender victory Gore maintained his 200,000-vote lead in the nationwide popular vote.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus