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Amid legal wrangling, Palm Beach County set to begin hand recount

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Palm Beach County elections officials said Monday that they will proceed with a hand recount of ballots that is expected to take six days to complete.

The countywide recount will commence Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. EST at the Palm Beach Emergency Operations Center, a site chosen because it is the only county facility secure enough and large enough to accommodate all of the workers.

Working 14-hour days, the count is expected to be completed by Saturday, according to Theresa LePore, elections supervisor for Palm Beach County.

In order to ensure fairness, 25 teams comprised of two elections workers -- one Democrat and one Republican -- will be observed by a member of each major party as workers attempt to determine the status of individual ballots.

Some 430,000 votes in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County will be counted.

"This is a very tedious process," LePore said at the county canvassing board meeting Monday. "And while we're talking about a 14-hour shift, we believe this really ensures a fairer process."

The recount comes after a number of voters expressed concern over what they said was a confusing butterfly-style ballot that may have resulted in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of votes either miscast for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan or disqualified altogether. Some 19,000 votes were invalidated in the heavily Democratic county, and a lawsuit has been filed in state court over the ballot's configuration.

The county completed a hand recount of ballots from four sample precincts on Saturday, and determined that enough irregularities existed in the now-infamous butterfly-style ballot to warrant a countywide recount. Elections officials said that thousands of ballots had been rejected because the counting machines could not detect partially punched ballots.

For Tuesday's recount, the ballots will be separated by precinct and kept in a separate room locked in transfer cases until they are brought in for counting. Questionable ballots will be put in a pile, where they will be reviewed by LePore; state Judge Charles Burton, the Palm Beach County elections board chairman; and Carol Roberts, the third member of the elections board.

Although the county may conduct the recount, a local judge has issued a temporary injunction that prevents the county board from certifying its ballots. A hearing on that matter is set for Tuesday afternoon.

During its Monday morning meeting, the board agreed to take legal action if that injunction is not lifted.

Burton said that the if the injunction is lifted, the county will "certify every other election, every other race, that all other races, elections and votes be certified by 5 p.m. tomorrow excluding the presidential race which is the subject of this recount."

They also agreed to investigate whether they have a legal basis to ignore the secretary of state's deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday, after which the state will certify its election results.

"The secretary of state is making a terrible mistake by calling this election in Florida tomorrow at 5 p.m. before counties have had time to fulfill their obligations under Florida law," Burton said.


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Monday, November 13, 2000

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