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Palm Beach County begins recount; protests greet announcement

Gore campaign heralds Florida Supreme Court ruling

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Palm Beach County re-launched its manual recount today, just hours after the Florida Supreme Court ruled there was no legal justification to prevent the county from undertaking the painstaking recount.

Judge Charles Burton, the chairman of Palm Beach County's canvassing board, sat through tough questions from critics and a few hecklers as he made the announcement this afternoon, just moments after the Florida Supreme Court refused to block the count. With Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush leading Democratic nominee Al Gore by Florida by just 300 votes statewide, Republicans oppose the recounts in heavily Democratic Palm Beach and Broward counties.

"They have given us that authority, so we intend on proceeding until such time as the recount is concluded," Burton said.

The recount got under way at 6 p.m. EST and Butler said it could take six days. A recount already was under way in Broward County, south of Palm Beach.

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Gore Campaign Chairman William Daley praised the ruling, calling it "clear and unambiguous."

"Now that the legal hurdles have been cleared, the counting can resume in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties ... with these legal obstacles gone, we hope these counts can be finished in the next few days," Daley said.

Democrats argue that manual recounts are needed because voting machines may have spit out valid punch-card ballots in the presidential contest because holes may have been incompletely punched or the ballots had the residue from the punch hole -- known as "chad" -- still attached. Doug Hattaway, a spokesman for the Gore campaign, called the ruling "great news."

Several hundred demonstrators, mostly Republican supporters, rallied around the Palm Beach County courthouse throughout the day as the canvassing board waited for a ruling from the state's high court.

Republicans say the mechanical recount performed so far is better than a hand recount. They fear that observers will be making a subjective judgment about the intent of the voter and argue that the ballots could deteriorate when handled. And they are unhappy that the process is under way only in two counties that voted heavily for Gore last Tuesday.

Those arguments were heard, sometimes loudly, outside the courthouse Thursday evening.

"Glad you're all being so polite," Burton told the crowd.

Burton said the provision allowing manual recounts has been on the books "for I don't know how many years."

"To be honest with you, I have never heard anybody complain about it before," he said amid shouted protests.

Burton said both Republican and Democratic observers will monitor the process.

"As they go through the ballots, assuming it's clearly punched through and there is no objection by either observer, then the vote is counted," he said. If the observers raise questions about the ballot, "Questionable ones are set aside and the canvassing board will look at it. It is the questionable ballots that the canvassing board has to look at and decide."

The Supreme Court order did not say Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris must consider the new recounts, and it remained unclear whether any new vote tallies might impact the presidential election. Harris, the state's top election official, has said she will not accept any revised numbers from counties as a result of hand recounts.

Her directive has prompted criticism from Democrats, who say Harris' work as the co-chairman of Bush's Florida campaign makes her decisions suspect.

National Correspondent Martin Savidge and CNN.com Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.


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Thursday, November 16, 2000

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