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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Bush Passes on Iowa Recount, Presses on Oregon

November 17, 2000|SCOTT MARTELLE and KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Texas Gov. George W. Bush passed up a chance to seek a vote recount in Iowa on Thursday, winnowing down the list of still-undecided states to four: Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin.

As the Bush camp retreated in Iowa, though, it pushed ahead in Oregon, stepping up a skirmish with election officials over the campaign's demands that the state produce updated ballot tallies. Campaign officials also seek fresh details on last-minute voter registrations and on voters registered in two counties--both potential avenues for fraud in a state where Vice President Al Gore holds a slim lead of about 5,750 votes.

Bush officials have threatened to seek a court order to force the state to provide the information. But state officials referred the Bush campaign to each of the state's 36 counties.

However, county officials remained mired in ballot counting and said they don't have time to compile the data.

"With a razor-thin margin like we have now, it's important that every vote is counted and every vote is counted right," said Bush campaign spokeswoman Leslie Goodman.

The Bush team also seeks details about what special handling procedures are in place while counting the last ballots, most of them "problem" ballots from people who lost their original or turned in ballots to the wrong county.

Oregon election officials told the Bush campaign to slow down.

"It is essential that Oregon's counties take the time and resources needed to complete the conduct of the Nov. 7 general election methodically and according to state law and administrative rule," state election director Lynn Rosik wrote to the campaign. "Your request must take into account the need to ensure that election officials are not prevented from fulfilling their duties with respect to the election."

Oregon officials hope to wrap up the count by the end of today.

In Austin, Texas, Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans said Thursday that supporters had urged Bush to seek a recount in Iowa, where Gore's lead was about 4,000 votes.

Evans said Bush decided against it "to do his part to ensure the fairness, accuracy and finality of this election."

Ann Dougherty, spokeswoman for the Iowa Republican Party, said the decision came from Bush's Austin headquarters after "many conversations" with Iowa party officials who looked closely at Gore's 0.3% lead there.

"That's better than a Republican has done in Iowa since '84, but we have the utmost confidence in Gov. Bush's decision," Dougherty said.

In Wisconsin, with 11 electoral votes at stake, Gore now leads by about 5,800 votes out of about 2 1/2 million cast, or about 0.2%. His margin was higher in returns on election night, but routine rechecks of results have eaten into his lead.

The canvassing there ends today, and candidates then have three days to request a recount.

In New Mexico, with five electoral votes, Gore retained a slight lead as election workers neared completion of their work. State officials must certify the results by Nov. 28, after which a candidate has six days to seek a recount.

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Martelle reported from Los Angeles and Murphy from Seattle.

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