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Media groups take another look at Florida ballots

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Peering at punchcards, reporters and lawyers are tediously inspecting thousands of disputed Florida ballots on which counting machines registered no vote for president.

"We are simply showing public documents for them to make their own determination," said Ernest Williams, a Hillsborough County election official.

Dimples, hanging chads -- marks of any kind -- are being catalogued to determine if voters had made partial holes in the punchcard ballots in an attempt to vote for president.

Democrats claim defective Votomatic machines prevented ballots from being properly punched.

The conservative legal group Judicial Watch says its examination of Broward County ballots shows many ballots judged by the county canvassing board to be dimpled in favor of either George W. Bush or Al Gore are not dimpled at all.

"It's a mess," says Judicial Watch's Larry Klayman. "What we've seen is that the standards employed by Broward County are extremely specious."

What Judicial Watch has not discussed is its own methodology in making that finding.

Twenty-two media and public interest groups, using different standards, are taking part in the inspection effort.

Murray Greenberg, an attorney for the Miami-Dade Canvassing Board, said the media's efforts could simply "add to the confusion" over the recent ballot recount and accompanying legal battles.

A dozen national news organizations, including CNN, USA Today, the New York Times and The Associated Press are trying to form a consortium to examine ballots with a uniform standard.

"I think one thing we wanted to avoid in this was to have a mad media dash in trying to find out what happened. It would look just as bad," said USA Today's Doug Pardue.

The Miami Herald, however, chose to inspect ballots on its own.

"I see nothing wrong in having several different groups and organizations look at the information and thinking about the information in as many different ways as we can think about it, because it is a complicated thing; it is an important thing," said Mark Seibel, assistant managing editor at the Miami Herald.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother of President-elect George W. Bush, calls the media recount an attempt to rewrite history.

"We're on a slippery slope here and unless you do it in the most objective way with really tight standards, I don't think it's going to prove anything," Bush said.

News executives counter that what they're doing is simply trying to establish what the ballots looked like and perhaps ultimately what the vote results might have been if those 45,000 discarded ballots had been included in the total.


Friday, December 22, 2000



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