TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Nov. 9 (AP) - George W. Bush's lead over Al Gore in crucial Florida shrank to just over 200 votes by unofficial count Thursday with allegations of irregularities swirling and ballots from overseas residents still to be counted.

Recount results from 65 of the state's 67 counties gave Republican Bush a lead of 225 votes out of nearly 6 million cast, according to an unofficial tally by The Associated Press. The original ``final'' margin had been reported at 1,784.

The official recount lagged behind, and Secretary of State Katherine Harris told an early evening news conference that it could be as late as next Tuesday - a week after the election - before the state has certified ballot results from all the counties. She also pointed out that it would take even longer - at least until Nov. 17 - to tabulate ballots cast by Floridians overseas and postmarked by Election Day.

Harris said Bush had 2,909,661 votes to 2,907,877 for Gore. Those were the totals at the end of vote-counting Tuesday night, and did not reflect any of the changes that have emerged since the county-by-county canvass began.

One election board member, Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, testily defended the pace of the recount.

``Nobody ever said that democracy was simple or efficient,'' he said. ``But this is democracy in action.'' He said anyone wanting simplicity should look to the south, to Cuba, a reference to the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

The Gore campaign has criticized the ballots in use in Palm Beach County as confusing, and has asked for a hand count of votes cast there and in three other counties.

Palm Beach County agreed to hand-count ballots in three precincts on Saturday.

There is also a legal challenge pending in state court with the support of Democrats who say a poor ballot design in Palm Beach County led some Gore supporters to inadvertently mark their ballots for Pat Buchanan.

``We expect legal challenges,'' said Clay Roberts of the Department of Elections, refusing to comment further.

Harris said that thus far 53 of Florida's 67 counties have forwarded recount materials to the state. She said the board count was behind the AP tally because the board is only reporting ``those that are unofficially certified.''

She said she had been glued to her television watching unofficial counts, and ``I hope they're going to be a lot more accurate than the other night.''

That was a reference to television networks that prematurely declared Gore the winner in Florida and then reversed course and said Bush had won the state - and with it the White House.

In addition to the partial recount-by-hand in Palm Beach County, the board in Broward County arranged a meeting for Friday to discuss the Gore campaign's request for a manual recount there.

With the outcome of the presidential race in the balance, allegations on both sides were becoming increasingly heated.

Gore campaign manager William Daley said courts may find the Florida result ``an injustice unparalleled in our history.'' Bush chairman Don Evans countered, ``The Democrats who are politicizing and distorting these events risk doing so at the expense of our democracy.''

More than a thousand Gore supporters demonstrated outside a government building in downtown West Palm Beach, demanding another election in the county. They said the confusing configuration of their ballot had cost the vice president votes.

``Gore got more,'' they chanted.

The Gore campaign contended the ballots in Palm Beach County were illegal. Reform Party candidate Buchanan said ``ineptitude'' in ballot design may have caused many Democrats to vote for him inadvertently.

James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state brought in by Bush to represent his interests in Florida, said, ``That ballot was posted, as required by Florida law, in newspapers and public places all over the state of Florida. And we haven't heard one gripe about that ballot until after the voting took place.''

Across the state, other allegations of voting improprieties ranged from missing ballots to problems with tabulations and intimidation of black voters. The Gore campaign requested that some 1.78 million ballots be hand-counted in Palm Beach, Volusia, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Eight lawsuits challenging the results were filed in state or federal court, including six in Palm Beach County and two in Tallahassee, where race discrimination was alleged.

The first case to reach a judge was dropped by the plaintiff in federal court in West Palm Beach.

In one of the other cases, Palm Beach voter Kenneth Horowitz, owner of the Miami Fusion soccer team and a registered independent, filed a lawsuit along with two other people. The suit contended poll workers told voters they had only five minutes to cast their ballots and anyone who took longer would have his ballot tossed out.

Officials in the heavily Democratic county rejected 19,120 ballots on election night because more than one presidential candidate was selected. Gore supporters blamed the ballot design.

Confusion arose from the way the county's punch-card style ballot was laid out. Candidates were listed in two columns, separated by holes for punching.

The controversy prompted an emotional midday demonstration in West Palm Beach. Democrats noted that the 3,407 votes for Buchanan were by far the most of any Florida county, and almost 20 percent of his total vote in the state.

``Our vote was stolen,'' Gore supporter Don Liftman said. ``Three thousand Buchanan supporters in a county full of Jewish condo residents? I don't think so.''

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