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Bush still wins Florida in newspaper recount

 

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- If a recount of Florida's disputed votes in last year's close presidential election had been allowed to proceed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican George W. Bush still would have won the White House, two newspapers reported Wednesday.

The Miami Herald and USA Today conducted a comprehensive review of 64,248 "undercounted" ballots in Florida's 67 counties that ended last month.

Their count showed that Bush's razor-thin margin of 537 votes -- certified in December by the Florida Secretary of State's office -- would have tripled to 1,665 votes if counted according to standards advocated by his Democratic rival, former Vice President Al Gore.

"In the end, I think we probably confirmed that President Bush should have been president of the United States," said Mark Seibel, the paper's managing editor. "I think that it was worthwhile because so many people had questions about how the ballots had been handled and how the process had worked."

Ironically, a tougher standard of counting only cleanly punched ballots advocated by many Republicans would have resulted in a Gore lead of just three votes, the newspaper reported.

The newspapers' review also discovered that canvassing boards in Palm Beach and Broward counties threw out hundreds of ballots that had marks that were no different from ballots deemed to be valid.

The papers concluded that Gore would be in the White House today if those ballots had been counted.

The experts assigned by USA Today and the Herald began counting the undervotes -- ballots without presidential votes detected by counting machines -- on December 18, 2000.

They concluded their work on March 13.

Reaction to the verdict of the two newspapers was mixed, but some of the people who were key players in the 36-day recount drama that followed last Election Day agreed Wednesday that the results indicated Florida has a lot of work to do to improve its elections system.

"We have to try to improve the election infrastructure, improve the education of voters," said former Florida elections official and CNN analyst David Cardwell.

Cardwell argued Florida needs to implement a more uniform method of collecting and counting votes across the state, and many localities are in desperate need of updated voting equipment. Many of the counties that logged significant numbers of undervotes were using punch card machines that were more than 30 years old.

Doug Hattaway, a former spokesman for Gore, concurred with Cardwell, saying the federal government should take the initiative to provide money to localities that cannot afford to replace aging and unreliable equipment.

Hattaway told CNN on Wednesday that the Gore camp has accepted Bush as the legitimate president, but there are still lessons to be learned from the efforts of the Miami Herald and USA Today, and other ongoing recount endeavors, including a consortium recount of both undervotes and "overvotes."

"Overvotes" are ballots that displayed more than one mark that might be interpreted as a vote for president. CNN is one of many news organizations participating in that ballot count.

"People understand that this is an academic exercise," Hattaway said. "Hopefully, this will lead to some sort of reform so this does not happen again.

He did level some criticism at the Bush White House, saying the new administration has shown little interest in tackling the problem.

Montana Republican Gov. Mark Racicot, who acted as a spokesman for the Republicans as the Gore and Bush camps tussled in the media through the long November-December recount battle in the courts, said Wednesday that the administration is interested in finding a resolution to counting problems in Florida and other states.

But, he added, this is primarily an issue that the states need to address themselves.

"These are specifically state problems," Racicot said. "You can't wield the power of the federal government on the states."

Racicot said Bush hasn't given much thought to the various recount projects in Florida.

"This shows President Bush wins again," he said. "He won the first count, then the recount, then the manual recounts, and was declared the victor this time by the media.

"What this says is what the American people set in their minds a long time ago," Racicot continued. "This election is over, and President Bush is the victor."

Hattaway, in turn, said Gore is getting on with his life.

"His bottom line was that all the votes should be counted," Hattaway said. "He's following (the count) to see what this says about the system and what we can do to reform it.

CNN Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella and Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this story.



RELATED STORIES:
Justices defend handling of Florida election case
March 29, 2001
Newspaper: Butterfly ballot cost Gore White House
March 11, 2001
Analysis suggests vote recount favored Bush
February 26, 2001
Consortium counts ballots once more in Florida
February 9, 2001
CNN announces election night coverage change, following 'debacle'
February 2, 2001

RELATED SITES:
USAToday.com: Interactive: Revisiting the Florida vote
USAToday.com: Results from punch card ballot counties
USAToday.com: Results from optical scan ballot counties
USAToday.com: Punch card counties excluded from study
USAToday.com: Optical scan counties excluded from study

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