Miami-Dade narrows hand recount in presidential election
MIAMI, Florida (Reuters) - Miami-Dade, one of three Florida counties still to report a final tally in the U.S. presidential election, said on Wednesday it was suspending its hand recount of votes.
Although this appeared to be a blow to Democrat Al Gore, who had hoped to pick up hundreds of votes in Florida's most populous county to overtake his rival, Republican George W. Bush, initial Democrat reaction accepted the decision.
Election board officials said on Wednesday morning it would be impossible for them to complete a hand recount of the county's nearly 700,000 votes by a Sunday deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court in a ruling late Tuesday night.
The only ballots which would be included in an amended tally would be some 10,600 that could not be read by a machine, they said.
The board's unanimous decision to suspend the hand recount meant that votes logged so far in the hand recount would be thrown out. Gore had a net gain of 157 votes in Miami-Dade County, with 135 of 614 precincts counted by Tuesday night.
Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties had faced a race against time to complete a recount which the Gore campaign believed could swing an election victory his way. Bush currently leads in the kingmaker state by 930 votes.
Miami-Dade election supervisor David Leahy said it would take 96 hours with no breaks to finish a full countywide hand recount, even if they could find more employees to use as counters which they have been unable to do.
Not enough counters over Thanksgiving
"Most people had plans for the (Thanksgiving holiday) weekend," Leahy said. "We could not do it by the deadline imposed by the court"
The Florida Supreme Court, over strenuous Republican objections, ruled on Tuesday the recounts should be included in the state's final tally, which will be the decisive count in the presidential contest.
Florida's 25 electoral college votes will give either candidate the 270 needed nationwide to win the keys to the White House.
Florida's chief election official, Katherine Harris, had told the canvassing board that her office would be open on Sunday to receive results.
Leahy said the votes that could not be machine read would be read by the three-member board which can get through about 300 ballots an hour.
"I think its do-able. I think we could accomplish it," Leahy said.
The decision was made over the objections of the Republican Party, which said the county should recount all or none of its ballots and which hinted a legal challenge could follow.
Bobby Barksdull, representing the Republican Party, said "we do not support this sort of shortcut."
The Democratic Party representative, John Young, said the party accepted that solution as "reasonable, rational and appropriate."
The results that were hand counted during the last two days will have no legal impact at all. They cannot be submitted because the precincts that have already been counted do not represent a full county wide sample. The Republican Party alleged they were from precincts that were heavily Democratic.
Since the remaining ballots which could not be read by machine came from all precincts they could be viewed as a representative sample.
The Miami-Dade canvassing board has already examined some of those previously uncounted votes but it was not known how many or what the results were.
Leahy, referring to those ballots, said "we've seen very few ballots with hanging chads" -- meaning very few ballots where a voter had clearly marked a ballot but had not fully punched through a hole. He said in many cases there clearly was no intention to vote for any presidential candidate.
After the decision was announced several dozen Republican Party members who had been observing the hand count stood and sat in the hallway outside the elections loudly chanting "voter fraud, voter fraud," and "let us in, let us in."
The reduced operation was moved to a much smaller room where only a few monitors from each party could be admitted.
The Miami-Dade had set itself a target of Dec. 1 to complete its hand recount, a goal that was swept away the Supreme Court's Sunday deadline.
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