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
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
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.