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Miami-Dade officials halt presidential ballot sorting


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Ballot box dropped

Canvassing board to inspect ballots

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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Miami-Dade County officials stopped the manual recount of presidential votes on Sunday afternoon, after Republicans complained that machine sorting was damaging ballots.

Sorting was scheduled to resume on Monday. Ballots from 502 of the county's 611 precincts had been sorted by 5 p.m. Sunday, when officials stopped the process.

Earlier Sunday, Republican observers said the machine sorting had caused hundreds of chad to fall from the ballots, and that votes had thus been counted that had not been cast during the election on November 7. Chad are the tiny bit of paper usually punched from the ballot by the voter.

David Leahy, the county's supervisor of elections, said the Republicans' concerns were misplaced. He said it was inconsequential if hanging chad fell from ballots, because the only chad that may have been detached were chad that voters punched from the ballots on Election Day.

Ballot box dropped

Ed Gillespie, a spokesman for Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush, had said earlier Sunday that election workers improperly handled ballots. He said a videotape showed a box of ballots had been spilled onto the floor.

counters
Miami-Dade election worker Elizabeth Phillips, left, passes an undervote ballot rejected by the tabulation machine to Jackie Barr in Miami on Sunday

"Of course it damaged them," Gillespie said.

County spokesman Mayco Villafana said, "A bin dropped to the floor, right in front of a supervisor and a Democratic observer. The bin fell on its side, the cards (fell to the) floor."

Villafana went on to say, "No one stepped on them, no damage. They were immediately put back in the bin, and the counting continued."

The county canvassing board earlier Sunday rejected a request by Republicans to photograph the tabulation room floor. GOP attorneys had asked permission to document that counters were knocking from the ballots thousands of chad.

Gillespie said the board denied requests to preserve fallen chad and for a pool reporter to witness the operation.

The recount in Miami-Dade had resumed after a state judge denied a Republican petition to block it. Opponents of the recount argued that running the ballots through the machines again could damage them, resulting in possibly inaccurate counts.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Margarita Esquiroz made the decision Sunday morning after an hour-long meeting with Republican and Democratic party lawyers.

Canvassing board to inspect ballots

The Miami-Dade canvassing board had voted unanimously Saturday to adopt a plan that would speed the recounting by hand -- scheduled to begin Monday -- of the county's 654,000 ballots.

The board planned to run the ballots through electronic vote readers Sunday to cull the 10,750 "undervotes" -- ballots for which the machines recorded no vote being cast for president.

The three-person canvassing board planned to inspect those ballots individually beginning Monday morning, when 25 two-person teams were to begin reviewing the ballots in the Stephen Clark Center, a government building in downtown Miami.

The remaining ballots were to be sorted into separate piles for each of the presidential candidates. Checkers were then expected to hold up one-inch stacks to the light to see if light passes through the ballots.

If light does not pass through the stack, ballots will be removed and inspected individually to see whether any of the holes are blocked by chad.

CNN Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella, CNN Correspondents Susan Candiotti and Charles Zewe contributed to this report.


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Sunday, November 19, 2000

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