-- Florida’s secretary of state today released unofficial results from recounts in 53 of the state?s 67 counties, showing George W. Bush still slightly leading Al Gore in votes to win the state and the presidency.
— Florida’s Secretary of State today released unofficial results from recounts in 53 of the state’s 67 counties, showing Bush still slightly leading Gore in votes to win the state and the presidency.
But Secretary of State Katherine Harris said her department was still waiting on results from 14 counties, expected to be received by Tuesday.
Also, overseas absentee ballots still need to be counted to conclude Florida’s final tally.
As of 5 p.m. today, she said, an unofficial tally put Bush ahead by 1,784 votes, or 2,999,661 to Gore’s 2,907,877.
Campaigns Trade Accusations
Campaign officials for George W. Bush say the Democrats are “politicizing and distorting these events” as they question possible irregularities in Florida’s presidential voting Tuesday.
Bush’s campaign chairman, Don Evans, rejected arguments that Florida vote again because of alleged irregularities, such as concerns a balloting in Palm Beach County may have confused voters.
“Our democratic process calls for a vote on Election Day; it does not callfor us to continue voting until someone likes the outcome,” he said.
Gore’s campaign chairman says the vice president should be awarded Florida and the presidency, even as officials in the Sunshine State continue with a recount of nearly 6 million ballots cast, Nov. 7.
“If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president,” Bill Daley told reporters in Tallahassee, Fla. this afternoon.
The Gore camp is demanding a new recount of ballots — by hand — in four counties, including Palm Beach.
And it said party officials would support legal challenges contesting the validity of allegedly misleading ballots in Palm Beach.
More than 19,000 ballots were declared void in Palm Beach for having more than one presidential candidate marked. Additionally, Democrats say the layout of the ballot caused many voters who thought they were voting for Gore to cast ballots for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.
“Because this disenfranchisement of these Floridians is so muchlarger than the reported gap between Governor [George W.] Bush and Vice President Gore,” Daley said, “We believe this requires the full attention of the courts.”
Evans said a recount wasn’t demanded previously in Palm Beach when thousands of votes had been disqualified in previous elections.
“He [Daley] neglects to point out that in 1996, a year with much lower turnout, a similar number of 14,872 ballots were invalidated for double-counting in Palm Beach County, and statewide, 143,000 ballotswere invalidated for over-counting in 1996,” said Evans.
“The Democrats, who are politicizing and distorting these events,risk doing so at the — at the expense of our democracy,” he said.
Slight Bush Lead in Recount
Daley said state Democratic officials would request a hand-count of ballots in Palm Beach and three additional counties.
Official results from a recount of 45 of Florida’s 67 counties showed Bush ahead with 2,909,461 votes and Gore with 2,907,798 — a difference of 1,663 votes. An Election Day tally showed Bush winning the state by fewer than 2,000 votes, a small enough margin to trigger a mandatory recount.
The recount of the ballots cast on Tuesday was expected to be completed by 5 p.m. ET today, but Florida officials said the official recount results wouldn’t be officially released until Friday.
However, officials must allow 10 days from the election for absentee ballots from Floridians living overseas to arrive.
Republican Dismisses Complaints
Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who is overseeing the recount process on behalf of the Bush campaign, today called for quick resolution.
“We would like to see this process carried out in a very transparent, open deliberate way, as expeditiously as possible,” he said.
Baker also dismissed Democrats’ complaints about the ballots in Palm Beach County.
“[It] is a ballot that has been used before in Florida elections,” he said,“it is a ballot that was approved by an elected Democratic official … and guess what? There were not complaints until after the election.”
Baker charged the dispute over the election was putting the U.S. presidential election “on hold” and “affecting the position of the United States in a number of different ways, particularly internationally.”
Daley called the comments a “disservice to the American people.”
“Our system obviously has an election on the first Tuesday after the second Monday, our electors do not meet until sometime late in December, and the inauguration is not until January. So the transition of power of our government is over three months, and that will take place,” he said.
He also said: “I believe that their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition, run the risk ofdividing the American people and creating a sense of confusion.”
Warren Christopher, also a former secretary of state, is overseeing the recount process on behalf of the Gore campaign.
The outcome of the presidential election hinges on Florida and its 25 electoral votes. The result of Oregon’s mail-in election is still up in the air as well, but that state’s seven electoral votes wouldn’t push either candidate to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. As of today, Gore held 260 electoral votes to Bush’s 246.
Buchanan Would Give Gore Votes
Reform Party candidate Buchanan said today he suspects he received votes in Palm Beach he isn’t entitled to, and he would rather he didn’t receive them.
“I don’t want to take any votes that don’t belong tome,” Buchanan told NBC News.
He added, “I have to think, given the 3,000 [votes received by Buchanan there] plus the 19,000 [disqualified ballots], that Al Gore very probably won Florida and therefore won the nation and won the presidency of the United States.”
Justice Eyes Returns
On the federal level, Attorney General Janet Reno said today the Justice Department would review any complaint coming out of the Florida vote count. But she said she has not yet seen any reason to “jump in.”
“We are not here to generate controversy,” she said. “We are here to do what’s right, to makesure the voice of the American people is heard, and that isbasically a matter of state law.”
The Justice Department often sends federal observers to election sites when given notice of potential problems and has primary responsibility for enforcing theCivil Rights Act of 1965, which was aimed particularly at severalsouthern states where voting-law violations were commonplace.
“I want to be very careful that we don’t do anything thatpoliticizes what is a very important moment in American historywhen we want to see to it that the voice of the American people isheard,” Reno said.
She said her office has a complaint from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People raising potential civil rights challenges to the conduct of balloting in Florida.
“We would have to look to see if there is a basis for a federalviolation,” she said. “In the system we have, state law governs … the form of the ballot. We should recognize the principle offederalism.”
Bush Remains Confident
Amid the uncertainty, Bush walked and talked like a president-elect Wednesday, and his campaign confirmed the Texas governor is already taking steps to prepare for his inauguration.
Bush sources say he will name his running mate, Dick Cheney, to head up the White House transition team.
Bush sources also confirmed that Andy Card, the former transportation secretary who headed up the Republican National Convention this summer, is a likely choice to become White House chief of staff.
“This morning brings news from Florida that the final vote count there shows that Cheney and I have carried the state of Florida,” Bush told reporters in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday. “And if that result is confirmed in an automatic recount, as we expect it will be, we have won the election.”
Appearing Wednesday at his Nashville, Tenn., headquarters with running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore thanked voters for giving him a majority of the national popular vote, and signaled that “no matter what the outcome” in Florida, he would abide by the recount results. (Follow the recount on our unofficial live results page.)
“We now need to resolve this election in a way that is fair, forthright and fully consistent with our Constitution and our laws,” the vice president said. “What is at issue here is the fundamental fairness of the process as a whole.”