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ELECTION 2000 / THE PRESIDENCY / Hands-On Democracy / A grueling task for officials

West Palm Beach-Open to view through a wall of wrap-around

windows, Palm Beach County officials yesterday began two crucial long and

difficult counts of presidential ballots: one by machine and another, over

Republican protests, by hand.

The new tabulations were expected to go late into the night, as elections

workers in one room fed stacks of the county's 461,988 ballots into machines

while six teams in the next room picked up and eyeballed each of some 4,600

ballots that represented a 1 percent sample of the county.

"Hopefully, in 10 to 12 hours we will have some results to report," County

Judge Charles Burton, chairman of the county Canvassing Board overseeing the

recount seen around the world, said shortly before they started.

At 6 p.m., county elections spokesman Bob Nichols announced the automated

count of all but the four precincts being hand-counted was done, but he threw

the news media into an uproar when he said the ground rules for the manual

count had changed. The ballots already hand counted would have to be counted

yet again before they could be run through the machines to complete the

automated tabulation, further delaying a final tally.

Earlier in the day, Bush campaign spokesman Tucker Eskew had complained

that hand counts were too subjective and that vote tabulations should be left

to "precision machines."

Palm Beach County was conducting an unprecedented third tabulation of

ballots in a week in an attempt to settle the closest presidential election in

decades.

The Bush campaign filed an 80-page federal lawsuit in Miami yesterday,

contending that Florida election law is unconstitutional for not setting

standards for hand recounts and seeking an injunction against such counts.

That lawsuit made it to Palm Beach County's packed government complex about

the same time county officials were holding a news conference as the recount

got under way at 1:20 p.m.

The county election supervisor's attorneys, Bruce Rogow and Bob Montgomery,

hastily read through the lengthy lawsuit, but they soon noted they had not

been served with an injunction, and only later did the court set a hearing on

the matter for tomorrow.

After a two-minute reading, Rogow declared he was "not overwhelmed" by the

lawsuit's claim that the Florida election law set no standards and so was

unconstitutional, and he said the count would go ahead as planned.

"What we're doing is what the Canvassing Board said we would do," he said.

With that began a machine count of all ballots coupled with the arduous

task of manually counting the hole punches from thousands of rectangular cards

to determine the will of the voters in four precincts selected by Democrats.

The ground rules for the manual count were set by the board in a series of

motions yesterday morning, many of which were challenged or contested by

Republican or Democratic lawyers.

In the first room, six teams sat at three rows of brown folding tables,

with two county elections staff members literally lifting the rectangular cards

to the light to look through the holes and then placing the cards in one of 12

stacks.

According to the procedures approved by the board yesterday, there was a

stack of cards for each of 10 presidential candidates, another for cards

without a presidential selection, and another for cards with more than one

presidential choice punched.

Finally, for truly questionable cases, the teams were to turn over the

cards to the Canvassing Board, which would make the final determination.

Watching each team of counters were a Republican, wearing a blue name tag,

and a Democrat, with a green tag.

But after nearly five hours, election officials revealed they had changed

the ground rules for the manual recount and would count ballots already done

yet again under the new rules.

Discarded was the "rule of sunshine," in which a staff member would hold

the ballot up to the light to see if there was a hole. Nichols said that rule

was dropped after disputes and protests by observers from both sides.

Instead, the counters were only to use rules concerning the hanging chad,

which would not award a vote for an indentation or dimple, but would if at

least one of the four sides of the chad was separated. A chad is the small

piece of the card that is punched out of the ballot when voting.

Under state law, Burton said, a party can request a hand recount of 1

percent of a vote. If that count varies significantly-just how much is not

specifically set by law-from the automated count, the Canvassing Board can

order a manual recount for the full county.

Democrats chose the precincts, all in elderly Jewish areas, because 10

percent to 15 percent of their ballots were originally read as having no

presidential vote, so "there was more opportunity for movement" to add Gore

votes, said Kartik Krishnaiyer, a Democratic political consultant.

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