53 and STILL counting

A day later, Florida officials are still waiting for 14 more counties to "officially" recount their votes.

By Jake Tapper

Published November 10, 2000 12:30AM (EST)

We've been waiting and waiting, but when they finally arrive they don't have an answer for us.

The three Florida officials in charge of the election certification, who are now supervising the state's recount effort -- supporters of Gov. George W. Bush, all -- come into the state Senate office building at 6 p.m. Thursday.

But instead of telling us who the next president of the United States is, they tell us that the recounting process is not yet complete, despite their hopes to have had it all finished up an hour before. The group includes Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Division of Elections director Clay Roberts.

Since the controversy deals with whether or not his older brother will be the leader of the free world, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recused himself from the group Wednesday. Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, a Democrat who endorsed Bush, took his place Thursday morning, purportedly in the name of bipartisanship.

"We will all remember these times as some of the most critical and defining moments in our nation's history," says Harris. "A time when we as Americans are working to ensure the meaning and vitality of our democratic system."

Only 53 of the state's 67 counties have provided her office with their official recount results, she says. Though Harris requested all the re-tallies by Thursday, the 14 remaining counties legally have until Tuesday to provide her with their results.

The unofficial results are as follows, she says: Her candidate, Bush, scores 2,909,661 votes; Vice President Al Gore gets 1,784 votes less than that, 2,907,877.

But these numbers mean nothing. They reflect a mishmash, a casserole, the new numbers from the 53 counties that have recounted and certified their results, plus the old numbers from the 14 counties that have yet to turn their re-tallies in.

Some of these 14 counties outstanding are unbelievably important. They are areas that largely went for Vice President Al Gore -- Dade County, which includes Miami, and Palm Beach County, of the controversial "butterfly ballots."

Also unreported are Pinellas County, which includes St. Petersburg and is near Tampa, and Orange County, which includes Orlando -- major population centers of the fabled Interstate 4 corridor, where Bush and Gore waged their war for swing voters. Old tallies have Gore beating Bush in both these spots, but not by all that much; about 20,000 total. A small increase in any one of these spots could completely flip the election results.

Harris is asked, What of the media reports that have the vote narrowing to less than 400 votes?

"Actually, we've been glued to our TVs as well, following your results," Harris says. "I hope they're going to be a lot more accurate than the other night."

She says that some news organizations are calling the counties on their own and counting those as recount results. The official standards, she says, are a bit more stringent. "Until we have the physical certification in our hands, they are not officially certified," she says.

Absentee ballots from overseas, Harris reminds us, must be both received in Tallahassee and counted by Nov. 17 in order to count.

Crawford seems to speak for all three when he says that his endorsement of Bush won't affect his duties.

"Anybody who's going to serve on this commission had to vote for somebody," Crawford says, though he neglects to point out that Harris and Roberts voted the same way.

"Nobody ever said that democracy is simple or efficient," Crawford says. "But this is democracy in action. If you want simplicity, just go about 70 miles south of Florida, and you got Cuba, and they're very simple, they have no elections."

We all have a lot of questions. But they won't comment on the litigation being threatened by "The Gore Campaign Recount Committee," or the confusing ballots from Palm Beach County, or, really, much of anything.

They leave the building and none of us is any closer to knowing really much of anything at all.

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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