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Bush camp eyes recounts in New Mexico, Oregon

GOP could seek new tallies in Iowa, Wisconsin as well

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) -- The vote count in the presidential contest in New Mexico tilted back toward Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday as Texas Gov. George W. Bush's campaign considered seeking recounts there and in three other states.

Gore was projected to win New Mexico's five electoral votes on Election Night, but his lead evaporated after a recount in one county, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush led early Monday by a margin of just four votes. A new tally, following a recount of 250 votes in Albuquerque's Bernalillo County and the discovery of at least 500 more ballots for Gore in southern Dona Ana County put the Democrat ahead by about 375 votes.

 
  WEB EXCLUSIVE
On the scene with CNN's
Greg LaMotte in New Mexico

Bush's campaign, meanwhile, was looking at the possibility of seeking recounts in New Mexico, Iowa, Oregon and Wisconsin -- all states where Gore led narrowly -- to offset the possibility that a Florida recount might cost them the margin of victory in the Electoral College.

Florida's 25 electoral votes are poised to throw the presidency to either Gore, the Democratic nominee, or Bush, the Republican. But if Bush should lose Florida, where an unofficial tally has him ahead by fewer than 400 votes, reversals in the other four states still could give Bush the votes he needs to win the presidency.

Florida, New Mexico and Oregon are still considered too close to call. Bush has 246 electoral votes in 29 states, while Gore so far appears to have amassed 255 electoral votes from 18 states plus the District of Columbia.

Recounts appeared most likely in New Mexico and Oregon. State police in New Mexico moved ahead Tuesday with a court-ordered impoundment of ballots across the state. State Republicans wanted impoundments to ensure ballots were protected in case of a recount or challenge. State officials will finalize the results November 28, and either side will have six days to request a recount.

Under New Mexico law, if the candidates end up tied, the winner could be determined by having the two men sit for a hand of poker -- with the state going to the winner.

New Mexico statute requires that in case of a tie, "the determination as to which of the candidates shall be declared to have been nominated or elected shall be decided by lot." In practice, the usual method for this rare event has been to play one hand of five-card poker.

This was last done in December 1999, in a local judge's race. Republican Jim Blanq and Democrat Lena Milligan played one hand of poker in a courthouse with dozens of people watching, and Blanq won.

In Oregon, Gore held a lead of fewer than 5,000 votes out of roughly 1.5 million cast -- a margin beyond the threshold for an automatic recount. But Bush's campaign appeared to be laying the groundwork Tuesday to request a recount there, raising questions about voting in the state's mail-in election.

In a letter sent Monday to Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Bush campaign counsel Michael Toner raised concerns that some Oregonians may have voted in more than one county as the state conducted all its voting by mail.

"We are interested in reviewing any and all procedures that were undertaken to cross-reference these registration updates with pre-existing voter registration records in your county, and with the counties in which these voters previously resided," Toner wrote.

He also asked for information on "irregular" ballots, a category that includes ballots from people who voted more than once, cast no presidential vote at all or submitted damaged ballots.

A second letter to the secretary of state, this one from Oregon Republican Party chairman Perry Atkinson, expressed concern about news stories in which an aide to Bradbury was quoted as having told Gore shortly after the election that, "I think we're going to pull it out for you."

"The comments of your top aide ... seriously call into question the objectivity of your office in conducting a nonpartisan elections process," wrote Atkinson, who asked Bradbury to remove himself from the final ballot counting process.

In Wisconsin, where about 2.8 million votes were cast, Bush trailed Gore by about 6,000 votes. Republicans have cited as many as 800 complaints of questionable polling procedures from around the state. They have asked Milwaukee County District Attorney Michael McCann to look into the allegations, which include voters getting two ballots or being told they had already voted.

Republicans must wait to request a recount until Friday, when Wisconsin's 72 counties must turn in certified vote tallies. The campaign would then have three business days to seek a new count.

And in Iowa, Gore leads by about 4,300 votes out of 1.3 million cast. If a recount is ordered, each county would have 18 days after its canvass to complete the new tally. A recount could cover the entire state or target specific counties.

Iowa was home to the closest race in the country; in Cedar County Gore beat Bush there by only two votes, 4,033 to 4,031, with the decisive margin coming from absentee ballots. Before a bloc of 14 absentee ballots were included, the two candidates were tied at 4,025 each in the eastern Iowa county.


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Tuesday, November 14, 2000

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