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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Other States Still Counting and Recounting Too

Process: A Senate race remains too close to call in Washington. A presidential winner is still a mystery in New Mexico, and in Iowa and Oregon, tweaks are being made in tallies.

November 14, 2000|SCOTT MARTELLE and JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As the nation's eyes remained focused on Florida, election officials in other states Monday were busy sorting out their own problems--from trying to pick a winner in New Mexico to making narrow results final in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Although only the Florida recounts are likely to tip the election to Gore or Bush, last-minute changes in vote totals elsewhere are raising questions about the overall accuracy of vote counting--the process that's the foundation of the American political system.

"I think there'll be more suspicions. Do votes really count? Are they counted honestly? I think there will be questions," said Gerald Pomper, a political science professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "Somebody is going to get really angry at the end of this and say the election got stolen."

Yet election officials said changes in tallies are nothing unusual. Every general election is followed by a canvass of the initial results, in which mistakes are caught and totals updated.

"Right now, we're in the normal mode of doing what we've always done," said Don Stanley, a spokesman for the Iowa secretary of state's office, which oversees elections there. "It would not be a shock if the [final] vote total was somewhat different than it was in the first returns. That would not raise any red flags. It would be more unusual if the numbers were exactly the same."

In Washington state, the presidential election took a back seat to the last undecided U.S. Senate race in the country. There, incumbent Republican Slade Gorton held about a 5,400-vote lead over Maria Cantwell, the Democratic challenger, with about 359,000 uncounted votes to go out of 2.5 million cast.

Election officials said it will be several days before the last ballots are counted. And nearly half of those come from King County, where so far voters have backed Cantwell, 59% to 39%.

A Cantwell victory would leave the Senate evenly split with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.

The first count is over in Iowa's 99 counties, and officials Monday began canvassing the results, a process that will end by this evening. Among minor changes Monday was the emergence of a victor in Cedar County, where Al Gore and George Bush were deadlocked in initial returns; Gore now has a two-vote lead.

State election officials said that such shifts are normal and would be too minor to affect the outcome; Gore won the state's seven electoral votes by about 5,000 votes. Candidates have three days after each canvass is completed to file for a recount in that county, Stanley said.

There are no provisions in Iowa election law for a statewide recount or an automatic recount.

In New Mexico, where Bush's lead was as low as four votes, the first ballot count remains incomplete and state officials revised upward the number of ballots left to be counted to 370 from 189. These are "in lieu" ballots issued to voters on election day who said they had failed to receive absentee ballots.

New Mexico election officials said the final count will be concluded by Friday, when state law requires New Mexico's 33 counties to report official results to the state canvassing board. The state's official results will be certified by the New Mexico secretary of state on Nov. 28.

Meanwhile, a Republican bid to have the state's ballots impounded continued Monday. Over the weekend, judges in two judicial districts ordered ballots to be taken from county clerks and kept under lock by state police, although no ballots have been seized yet.

Denise Lamb, director of the state election bureau, said Monday that impounding would not occur until canvassing had been completed.

The legal action was begun on behalf of a losing Republican judicial candidate, although it would have the effect of protecting Bush's lead in the state. There is no automatic recount under New Mexico law. However, after the statewide count is certified, any individual may request a recount, which would automatically be granted, provided the requesting party pays for it.

In Wisconsin, the Bush campaign was still deciding whether to seek a recount, which cannot be requested until Friday, after all 72 counties have certified their results. The Bush campaign would then have three days to file a request.

The vote there has been complicated by allegations of vote-buying in Milwaukee--a Gore supporter allegedly handed out cigarettes to the homeless in return for votes--and new complaints by Republican Party officials that some voters received two ballots while others were turned away from polls after being told that they already had voted.

In New Hampshire, no one filed a request by Monday's 5 p.m. deadline, which means that Bush will keep the state's four electoral votes, even though a canvass of initial returns whittled his lead to just over 7,000, state officials said.

The vote change stemmed from proofreading and computer errors, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office said. She described the errors as not unusual and said they will not affect the outcome.

And in Oregon, the first state in the nation to vote exclusively by mail-in or drop-off ballots, the chance of an automatic recount faded Monday as unofficial returns put Gore ahead by about 5,700. Had the margin been less than 3,000, an automatic recount would have been triggered, said Nancy Ferry, a program representative in the secretary of state's office.

A candidate still has until Dec. 12 to request a recount, the elections office said.

About 21,000 ballots remained to be counted in Oregon, mostly those that could not be read by machine or that had been filed by voters in the wrong county. Ferry said it was unlikely those ballots would affect the outcome.

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