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Bush camp blasts 'flawed' count

Gore team condemns 'crass politics'

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Republicans say they have "clear and compelling evidence" the hand count in Florida is flawed and prone to error.

Hughes
Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes claimed that the hand count is "distorting, reinventing and miscounting" the vote  

Karen Hughes, spokeswoman for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, said on Saturday the count is "distorting, reinventing and miscounting" votes..

Chris Lehane, spokesman for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, said the Bush camp was injecting "raw, crass, partisan politics" into the situation.

"The Gore campaign wants the will of the people to be reflected accurately and completely, which will be guaranteed by a manual recount, while the Bush campaign is trying to do everything possible to stop that from happening," said Lehane.

Credibility of count questioned

The Bush campaign claimed problems in the recounting process called into question the credibility of the effort.

The hand counting in Palm Beach and Broward counties "is not only fundamentally flawed, it is becoming completely untrustworthy," said Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, speaking for Republican campaign.

He said ballots were being dropped, damaged, stuck together, abused and misplaced, and Democratic officials were changing and manipulating the rules of the count.

"We have elderly counters overworked and burned out," he said. "Counters are working from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, sometimes even later. Counters, many of whom are elderly, are exhausted. Some of them are angry, and clearly they are fatigued. The room is poorly lit."

Racicot
Montana Governor Marc Racicot said the recount is "fundamentally flawed"  

In one case, he said vote counters found Bush ballots stacked among a pile of Gore ballots and refused to remove them. In another case, chad was taped over a ballot that had been marked for Bush, he said.

Racicot said Bush ballots have been "found in the Gore pile to be counted as Gore votes. "The Democratic observer later apologized to the Republican counterpart, telling him that the stack of ballots was different last night, and, in his own words, had been sabotaged.

"I think the American people, when they learn about some of these things, will ask, 'What in the name of God is going on here?'"

"There's nothing unusual about the way the votes are being counted in Florida right now," said Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader.

Postmarks disputed

Racicot and other top Republicans continued to allege that Democrats were trying to get as many as one-third of the absentee ballots from the military thrown out.

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"The vice president's lawyers have gone to war, in my judgment, against the men and women who serve in our armed services," Racicot said. "Last night across Florida, they threw out between 900 and 1,100 votes cast by military men and women. In Duval County, for example, 44 votes, mostly military, were thrown out," he said.

But Gore legal adviser Ron Klain called the Republican charges "hypocritical."

"They've spent a week trying to exclude the votes of men and women in uniform, police, fire, nurses, doctors," Klain said. "Now, their newfound dedication to the counting of ballots, though welcome, seems a little off."

In a statement issued through the Bush campaign, retired Army general Norman Schwarzkopf complained that absentee ballots used by members of the military reportedly might not be counted because clerical errors left them unpostmarked. Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made a similar complaint Friday.

"These people don't have the luxury of going down to the post office and getting their ballot postmarked," said Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker. "And lots of times when they're trying to get these things in expeditiously, which is what the federal law calls for they, end up getting them back here without a postmark on them."

Questioned on CNN's "Evans & Novak" Saturday night about whether military voters "should be given a little leeway," Daschle replied: "I do. I also think that those ballots in Palm Beach -- if it's clear that somebody put a mark on that ballot with the intention of attempting to vote, if it's marked but the chad is not all the way through -- clearly that's something we ought to examine, as well. That's the point. It works both ways."

Military postal regulations require that a postmark be affixed to mail, and in a letter to a Palm Beach, Fla., law firm, Navy Capt. E.M. DuCom, deputy director of the Military Postal Service Agency, acknowledged that "there are instances when time constraints do not allow for proper postmarking/cancellation of the mail."

DuCom said that he has "... personally received mail through the MPS (Military Postal System) with no postmarking."

Under state law, ballots without postmarks are not counted, since it can't be determined if the ballot arrived prior to the deadline.

The candidate who wins Florida and its 25 Electoral College votes will succeed U.S. President Bill Clinton on January 20.

CNN National Correspondent Mike Boettcher and Reuters contributed to this report, which was written by CNN.com Writer Jonathan D. Austin.


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Saturday, November 18, 2000

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