FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — On the day the nation's electoral college officially declared George W. Bush the president-elect, Broward County's ballots were again on public display Monday for a review by representatives of several newspapers, a conservative group and two private citizens.
Lawyers, accountants and newspaper reporters joined Randy Chernick and his wife, Judy, in looking at 424 ballots during a tedious, seven-hour inspection. Most described it as an effort to gauge the standards used by the canvassing board in a hand recount of the votes last month.
"I'm still not clear what system was used to determine a vote, and I just want to have a look," said Chernick, 57, a retired Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran who joined about 12 others at a table in an election department warehouse where two county employees held up the punch cards one at a time.
Most of those at the table were examiners hired by several newspapers who are trying to determine the feasibility of inspecting ballots in all of Florida's 67 counties. Mark Seibel, assistant managing editor of the Miami Herald, said he believed all disputed ballots in Florida eventually could be recounted.
But other news organizations, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press, had not committed to a statewide ballot examination.
"We haven't reached a decision either way," said Kevin Walsh, AP bureau chief for Florida.
The newspapers and AP are not acting as a single group or consortium but are attempting to agree upon common procedures on how to report their findings. The news organizations are not trying to determine whether votes were legitimate but to report, for example, how many contested ballots had dimpled chads and how many had chads detached on two corners.
The ballots are being classified by the news groups in eight categories, including two that address whether light or "sun" can be seen coming through the perforations of the chad.
The categories are: blank; chad punched out; other; dimple, sun; dimple, no sun; one-corner detached chad; two-corners detached chad; and three-corners detached chad.
Also at the table for what Broward elections officials said would be a two-day public examination before a Christmas break was Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest group best known for its harsh criticism of President Clinton.
In looking at some 6,600 so-called undervotes--those punch cards on which machine counters detected no vote for president--the group hoped to determine the criteria the canvassing boards in various counties used during hand recounts, according to its chairman, Larry Klayman.
The pace of the examination was steady but slow--too slow, charged Klayman. He said Judicial Watch would go to Broward County Circuit Court today and seek sanctions designed to punish the election department "for obstructionist behavior and running up our costs."
The board is charging $300 an hour to conduct the examination, a fee that the participating groups have agreed to share.
The review is being carried out under Florida's Government in the Sunshine laws, which treats ballots as public documents that can be viewed by anyone.
For seven hours, election department employees Mary Cooney and Evan Kolodny removed the ballots from white envelopes and held them up one by one. After those observers at one end of the table had peered at the card for a few seconds, Kolodny passed it to Cooney, and she displayed the card for those at the other end of the table. Then the observers marked what they saw.