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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Add Nassau to List of Problems

Fuzzy math: The recount in the northeastern Florida county missed some ballots. Meanwhile, state officials certified the old election night numbers.

November 28, 2000|SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shirley N. King had a gut feeling there was something wrong with the recounted election results in Florida's Nassau County, a low-slung coastal region just east of Georgia's famous Okefenokee Swamp.

There was no proof. Just a sense, honed during King's 28 years as Nassau County's supervisor of elections, that the mandatory recount her staff conducted Nov. 8 was flawed somehow.

Despite her misgivings, Nassau County Atty. Mike Mullin said Monday, King accepted her staff's recommendation and certified the recount totals, setting in motion a series of events that have added Nassau County to Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties as potential symbols of how not to run an election.

At issue in Nassau County is which of two counts should have been reported to Florida's secretary of state: the election night results that had George W. Bush ahead, 16,404 to Al Gore's 6,952, or the recount that, for reasons officials can't explain, totaled about 200 fewer ballots than those initially tabulated.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 29, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Butterfly ballot--A graphic on Tuesday describing a lawsuit seeking a Palm Beach County, Fla., revote because of confusion over the "butterfly" ballot incorrectly said the suit was filed by Al Gore. It was filed by Democratic voters.

That second, mechanical recount gave Bush 16,280 votes to Gore's 6,879. According to county officials, the first vote gave Bush a net of 51 more votes than the second count. (Some media reports earlier had put the net gain at 52.)

Calling the county's actions "inexplicable," Gore campaign attorney David Boies on Sunday accused Nassau County elections officials of violating Florida laws by eventually reversing itself and submitting the initial election night returns.

The Gore campaign Monday asked Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls to bar Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris from awarding Florida's 25 electoral votes to Bush until the conclusion of court challenges to election results in the counties.

King could not be reached Monday for comment.

Judy Tiner, Nassau County's assistant supervisor of elections, said the confusion began after local officials completed their part of a mandatory statewide recount the day after the election.

The recount was required by law because the election was so close.

"After the figures and everything had been certified and sent to Tallahassee, some research was done on some of the totals and that found that about 200 ballots had evidently been left out of that count," Tiner said.

Over the next few days, Mullin said, King became increasingly concerned about the difference in the totals and announced that she would seek an opinion from the secretary of state's office on what to do.

Mullin said King was told that if she felt there was an error, she should take whatever steps she felt necessary to correct it. So last week, King notified Harris' office that the Nassau County recount missed about 200 ballots. Mullin said word came back that the secretary of state would certify the initial election night results.

Officials for Harris' office could not be reached Monday for comment.

On Friday, the three-member Nassau County canvassing board, which includes King, voted to certify those initial results, giving Bush those extra 51 votes.

Now, even that board vote has become a point of legal contention. One of the three original members of the canvassing board, Nassau County Commissioner Dave Howard, was on a family vacation and missed Friday's meeting. He was replaced by another county commissioner, Marianne Marshall.

Gore's attorneys say it was illegal under Florida law for Marshall to sit in on the board and vote.

Mullin said the canvassing board will decide Wednesday or Thursday what its next step will be.

"They will decide [whether] they want to participate in this legal battle . . . or take the position [that] we've done what we believe to be the right thing and let the courts decide," Mullin said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Recount Math

Attorneys for Vice President Al Gore argue that George W. Bush's official 537-vote lead in Florida is actually smaller and could be overcome. A look at the vote totals and Democratic arguments, which Republicans reject:

Certified Bush lead in Florida: 537

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Votes awarded Gore in Palm Beach County but rejected by the state, which said it could not accept incomplete returns: --215

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Votes awarded Gore in Miami-Dade County but never submitted to the state because the county decided to stop its manual recount: --157

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Ballots Gore attorneys argue should be subtracted from Bush's total in Nassau County because county officials reverted to their election night count after a mandatory machine recount missed about 200 ballots. The election night total cost Gore 51 votes: --51

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Bush lead, which Gore attorneys argue they would surpass if the recount continues in Miami-Dade County, the state accepts amended ballots and if questionable ballots are rejected: 114

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Source: Times staff

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

A Day in Court

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THE ISSUES

"Butterfly Ballots" (Palm Beach County)

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