GOP Ratchets Up Recount Rhetoric

Members of George W. Bush’s campaign made serious accusations against the Democratic Party today, charging that backers of Al Gore have orchestrated a statewide effort in Florida to disallow overseas ballots from members of the military, and saying the hand count under way in two counties is now irreparably flawed.

The charges came even though a final tally of overseas absentee ballots has increased Bush’s lead over Gore to 930 votes. The numbers have been released by the Florida Secretary of State’s office, but have not been certified.

At a press conference in Austin, Texas, this afternoon, Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes and Montana Gov. Marc Racicot claimed they have “convincing evidence” that the manual recount is flawed.

“We now have clear and compelling evidence from eyewitnesses that this manual recount process is fundamentally flawed and is no longer recounting, but is distorting, reinventing and miscounting the true intentions of the voters of Florida,” Hughes said.

They cited several examples of alleged irregularities in Palm Beach and Broward counties, such as the ballots being used as fans, and “Post-It” notes affixed to ballots.

Both Hughes and Racicot chastised the Gore camp for what they called attacks on military ballots that were disqualified.

“No one who aspires to be commander in chief should throw out the votes of the men and women he seeks to command,” Hughes said.

And Racicot returned with renewed vehemence to the ongoing Bush theme: That machine recounts are the only new tallies that can be trusted.

Court Setback for Bush

On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court delayed certification of the election until at least Monday, when it will hold a hearing on the ongoing hand recounts of ballots in heavily Democratic counties. The high court will decide whether the ballots should be included in the final vote tally for the state — a result that is expected to decide who will be the next president.

Bush’s campaign has opposed the repeated recounts because it says they have no set standards and are vulnerable to human mistakes and partisanship. After Election Night, the Republican Texas governor’s official lead diminished from 1,784 to the 300 votes, the last statewide tally reported to Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ office.

But the overseas tally as reported by the Florida Division of Elections has given 1,380 votes to Bush and 750 to the Democrat, Gore, with all 67 counties reporting. That increases Bush’s overall lead to 930 votes.

Harris, a Republican, had intended to certify the election this afternoon after overseas absentee ballots were tabulated. But that will not happen because of the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

Gore, whose campaign had requested manual recounts of ballots in four counties, hailed the court’s ruling.

“The American people want to make certain that every vote counts and that every vote is counted fairly and accurately,” Gore told reporters Friday at the vice president’s residence. “That is why the decision just announced … is so important.”

Bush’s campaign said it was disappointed in the state Supreme Court’s ruling but was confident it would ultimately find that Harris followed the law in her decision.

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