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Florida Says No to a Recount but Will Review Polls

Election: Down by 8,196 votes, Janet Reno wanted another tally in primary race. With new machines in place, some precincts showed zero turnout.

September 14, 2002|From Associated Press

MIAMI — Janet Reno asked for a statewide recount Friday of every vote in Florida's botched primary and was promptly turned down by the state election board. Florida's secretary of state, however, said counties could continue to look for votes not tallied that could erase Bill McBride's lead in the Democratic race for governor.

Secretary of State Jim Smith said there would be no recounts under any circumstances, but newly found votes could be submitted by counties with their updated totals for final certification next week.

"Whatever those totals are at that time, will, at that time, determine who the winner of the gubernatorial primary is," Smith said.

That means Reno needs a clear victory when final results come in Tuesday. After Wednesday, candidates have 10 days to challenge the results in court.

The unofficial count, released Thursday, showed Reno trailing McBride by 8,196 votes, a margin greater than the one-half percentage point needed to force an automatic recount in the race to take on freshman Republican Gov. Jeb Bush this fall.

Reno has said she doesn't want to challenge the results in court, and Alan Greer, her campaign attorney, all but ruled out a lawsuit.

Political newcomer McBride declared victory Thursday after the unofficial count was released. Reno, President Clinton's attorney general, refused to concede, saying there were discrepancies in at least 80 Miami-Dade County precincts and elsewhere.

Using Reno's list of questionable precincts and factoring in Miami-Dade's voter turnout of 32.7%, as many as 8,000 votes could have been missed, according to a computer analysis by Associated Press.

Because Reno won about 70% of the Miami-Dade vote, she presumably could pick up votes there and narrow the gap.

Miami-Dade officials said they would not release details about their vote review until Tuesday, the state deadline. They are examining machines from the whole county, including those where Reno workers questioned shockingly low turnouts.

In one precinct, computers registered 900% more votes than there were eligible voters, while no votes were recorded in precincts with thousands of voters.

Miami-Dade County election chief David Leahy has said workers examined four polling stations that originally showed a total of 96 votes. The review boosted the total to 1,914 votes, although officials didn't say which candidate gained.

The delay reminds many here of the five weeks it took to decide the 2000 presidential election in the state. Florida and counties spent millions of dollars on new technology to prevent a repeat of the paper-ballot debacle, but the computers caused new difficulties.

Maurice Cason said she voted for Reno at Miami's Shadowlawn Elementary School in the Little Haiti neighborhood and watched from her nearby home as hundreds of others streamed to the polls. The precinct has 1,416 registered Democrats, yet county officials recorded no votes there.

"I always used to say my little vote didn't count," said Cason, 76. "The last time in the presidential mess, I don't see where I counted then. This is the second time we've had this mess."

County officials have complained about a lack of training for poll workers on the new machines. Dorothy Walton, precinct clerk in Miami's Liberty City area, said she only got three hours of instruction.

In her precinct, which has 1,406 registered Democrats, the machines initially recorded only 87 votes. Later Wednesday, election officials raised that total to 610 after checking the machines.

The 80 precincts targeted by Reno reported a total of 1,952 votes cast. But those precincts had 31,375 registered Democrats.

If those precincts matched the countywide turnout, they would have produced 10,260 votes, more than five times what was reported, according to an AP analysis.

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