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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Florida Recount Underway

Presidency Hangs in Balance; 19,000 Ballots Disqualified

Both Camps Send Teams to Monitor the State's Effort

November 09, 2000|MARK Z. BARABAK and MIKE CLARY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

MIAMI — The closest, most confounding presidential election in modern times defied resolution Wednesday as the outcome became snarled in controversy over the balloting in Florida.

Republican George W. Bush cautiously claimed victory, predicting his wispy margin in Florida would hold up and give him the electoral votes needed to claim the White House. But Democrat Al Gore warned against "a rush to judgment."

Gore could face a wrenching decision as early as today, when an initial Florida recount may be completed. If Bush's narrow victory is confirmed, Gore may face pressure to concede the race to spare the nation prolonged uncertainty.

But there were signs that Democrats might be loath to capitulate so quickly. Some of Gore's Florida supporters filed a lawsuit amid allegations of voting irregularities in the state.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 15, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Historic votes--The Times said in a story Thursday that if George W. Bush were to lose the popular vote but win the presidency in the electoral college, he would be the first president since 1876 to do so. The nation elected presidents who lost the popular vote both in 1876 and 1888.

Florida officials began the mandatory recount Wednesday morning, and the still-battling campaigns dispatched two eminent overseers, both former secretaries of State: James A. Baker III for the Bush campaign and Warren Christopher for Gore.

With recounts completed for 32 of Florida's 67 counties, Bush's lead had been reduced by roughly 800 votes, shrinking to less than 1,000 out of more than 5.8 million cast. Sowing further doubts about the outcome, an undetermined number of absentee ballots from Floridians living overseas have several more days to trickle in.

But much of Wednesday's focus was on the state's Gold Coast, famous for its high-rise condos and legion of retirees.

In Palm Beach County, election officials announced that Tuesday night more than 19,000 computer ballots had been disqualified because they had been punched for more than one presidential candidate. Democratic Party lawyers asserted the design of the ballot led to the confusion and that they may ask for a revote, which would cast the presidential race into further doubt.

Nationwide, unofficial results showed Gore leading Bush in the popular vote by slightly less than 200,000 ballots out of more than 100 million cast.

But Bush could win the White House, thanks to a majority in the electoral college, provided his Florida margin is sustained. That may not be clear for some time: Even after the recount is finished, the final results may be subject to further review.

Both Sides Remain Confidant

If the Texas governor prevails, he will be the first candidate in more than 100 years to lose the popular vote but win the White House.

"I'm looking forward to this being speedily resolved and that the vote that we believe we've got in Florida is confirmed," an obviously fatigued Bush told reporters in Austin, Texas, where he was joined by running mate Dick Cheney. "And when that happens, I'll be the president-elect and my friend will be the vice president-elect and we'll begin the transition."

Reaching out to Gore supporters, Bush vowed to "work hard to earn their confidence."

Bush said he and Cheney would "do everything in our power to unite the nation to bring people together after one of the most exciting elections in our nation's history."

But the Gore campaign expressed confidence that the vice president ultimately will win Florida and, with it, the presidency. "We believe if there's a fair, fair, objective count . . . Al Gore will win the state of Florida's popular vote," spokesman Chris Lehane said.

Gore, speaking to reporters in Nashville, said the election needs to be resolved "in a way that is fair, forthright and fully consistent with our Constitution."

"Because of what is at stake, this matter must be resolved expeditiously, but deliberately, and without any rush to judgment."

Gore backers alleged a number of voting irregularities in Florida, including intimidation of black voters and the confusion about the oddly formatted ballot in Palm Beach County. Democrats charged the confusion may not only have caused the double-punching that disqualified 19,121 ballots but also led some Gore supporters to vote for the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan by mistake.

Three people filed suit Wednesday seeking a new election in the county, where Buchanan received 3,407 votes for president, more than he received in any other Florida county.

"If all of our voters had been able to vote and all of our votes been counted, we wouldn't have been in this situation," said Bob Poe, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party.

He minimized the effect of the Green Party's Ralph Nader, who received about 100,000 votes in Florida and was accused by many Democrats of costing Gore the presidency. "It doesn't look like the Nader factor so much as it was these other potential voting irregularities," Poe said.

Oregon, New Mexico Remain in Play

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