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As Florida Sorts Out Primary Glitches, McBride Campaigns

Election: Search for missed votes continues, but the unofficial winner of Democratic contest says it's time to get past the balloting fiasco and work on unseating Gov. Jeb Bush.

September 15, 2002|From Associated Press

MIAMI — Workers waded through stacks of voting machines Saturday, pulling them out one by one in a search for uncounted votes from Florida's disputed Democratic gubernatorial primary.

At the same time, leading candidate Bill McBride was back on the campaign trail, saying it was time to get past the primary election fiasco and work on unseating Gov. Jeb Bush.

McBride spoke to a raucous crowd of about 200 chanting, "Bill! Bill! Bill!" at a Florida Education Assn. meeting in Orlando.

"What we've got is a party I think is ready to unite and a party that's ready to get on with the business at hand, and the business at hand is defeating the current governor," McBride said.

But former U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, who trailed McBride by 8,196 votes in unofficial totals from Tuesday's primary, said the business at hand is counting all the votes--including thousands that may have been missed in her South Florida strongholds of Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

"I just want the votes to be counted," Reno said on NBC's "Today" show. "I'm happy to concede when the votes are there."

Reno didn't fault McBride for starting to campaign against Bush, who has run negative campaign ads about McBride.

"If I were Bill, I'd be campaigning now," she said. "I'm not stopping anybody."

On Friday, state election officials rejected Reno's request for a statewide recount. But counties are allowed to amend the vote totals due Tuesday to the state, so any votes that are found before then can still count.

After Wednesday, candidates have 10 days to challenge the results in court, although Reno has said she doesn't plan a lawsuit.

Instead, she is hoping counties find votes that went uncounted because of technical problems. So far, Miami-Dade County has found more than 1,800 such votes and is searching for perhaps thousands more.

In a dimly lighted warehouse in Medley, about 25 workers searched through hundreds of stacked machines--which look like hard-sided suitcases--looking for equipment from precincts where totals have been questioned.

In some cases, the machines were mislabeled, further slowing the process. Workers had collected votes from 11 machines by Saturday evening and had gathered other machines to download the voting information.

"We are relabeling as we go, so when I get the next list, it may be easier to find them," said Emil Phillips Jr., an assistant elections director in charge of systems.

Miami-Dade officials would not release details about their vote review until Tuesday.

In Broward County, workers were examining more than 20 machines. Officials would not say how many they wanted to check.

Although McBride agreed that every vote should be counted, he said the Democrats should not get distracted with the general election less than two months away.

"We've waited a hard couple of days, because what I wanted to do is to make sure that we didn't get out ahead of ourselves," he said. "We've got to start now.... We can't lose any more time."

The election woes reminded many of the five weeks it took to straighten out the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

The state and counties spent millions on technology to prevent a repeat of the debacle with paper ballots, but the high-tech equipment caused new difficulties.

Bush, accepting the endorsement of retired police officers on Saturday, rejected any claims that GOP state leaders were trying to plot against Reno.

"We will follow the law. We can't have a manual statewide recount, as Ms. Reno has suggested," he said. "She, as a former attorney general and former state attorney, ought to know what the law is before she goes off and asks for these things."

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