Palm Beach officials seek countywide manual recount

Gore gains votes after four precincts are counted manually; official says he could pick up 1,900. Campaign surrogates duke it out on the Sunday morning talkies.

Published November 12, 2000 7:29AM (EST)

Bleary-eyed Palm Beach County election commissioners voted 2-to-1 to proceed with a countywide manual recount of the presidential vote by hand early Sunday morning, after a preliminary recount of 1 percent of the county's ballots gave an additional 36 votes to Vice President Al Gore.

Though George W. Bush was still ahead in the state, that 19-vote edge for Gore could turn into 1,900 votes if it held up after 100 percent of the votes were counted. Palm Beach County official Carol Roberts moved to authorize a countywide manual recount. After a fractious debate, with officials from the Democratic and Republican parties weighing in, the commissioners voted at 2:15 EST Sunday morning to proceed with the hand count. All three commissioners are Democrats.

Surrogates and spinmeisters for both candidates took their grievances to the Sunday morning talk shows, a veritable four-car pileup of charges and recriminations.

Former secretaries of state Warren Christopher and James Baker, handpicked by Gore and Bush -- Christopher to oversee and Baker to halt the recount effort -- gave face-time to Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson on ABC News' "This Week" and to Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Speaking to Russert, Bush's man in Florida didn't veer from script, saying that hand-counting opens up the flood gates for human error and that "voting machines aren't Republican and they aren't Democratic, and they are therefore not subject to conscious or unconscious bias." Baker criticized the Gore camp for requesting hand counts in four predominantly Democratic counties and for not accepting the results of election night or the subsequent recount.

Baker also said Gov. Bush would dismiss his lawsuit to halt the hand recount if Gore would agree to "accept the results of the statewide recount, subject only to computing ... the votes of the overseas ballots." Under those circumstances, he argued, come Nov. 17, "whoever wins then, wins." Bush filed the lawsuit in federal court Saturday morning, arguing that it raises the potential for inaccuracy and even fraud. A federal judge has scheduled a hearing on the motion for Monday morning.

Speaking on Gore's behalf, Christopher rejected Baker's offer to dismiss the suit if Gore backed off from the recount. But he also stated that he expected the ballot issue would be resolved in "a matter of days." When Russert asked if the Gore campaign is trying to delay the process until the Electoral College meets on Dec. 18, Christopher said, "absolutely not."

Later, on ABC News' "This Week," Baker said, "There has to be some finality to a presidential election," before repeating (as so often happens in Washington, where pundits are shuttled from one network's studio to the next for back-to-back appearances) the same lines he offered NBC's Russert. He also reiterated Bush's threat to seek recounts in other states where the election is close if Gore doesn't abandon his recount efforts in Florida.

Christopher, meanwhile, said that Gore is not endorsing any of the current lawsuits filed in Florida. "I wouldn't try to tell anyone in Florida what to do with their lawsuit," he told ABC News' Sam Donaldson. He criticized accusations that Gore had targeted Democratic strongholds for recounts as a cynical ploy to tilt the outcome of the election. The four counties, he argued, had been selected because of balloting anomalies, not for "partisan" reasons. "I think we have a strong case," he mused.

At least one Bush supporter has strayed from the Texas governor's camp on the recount issue. Sen. John McCain, who has campaigned for Bush since dropping out of the race during the primaries, told "Face the Nation," "I was very disappointed in secretary Daley's comments that even if they resolve the Florida issue, they're not willing to abide by the decision of the voters there. That's rather disturbing ... What we really need to do here, Bob, is next Friday, the absentee ballots will be counted. Hopefully, the hand recounts will be completed, and both sides then agree."

But the highpoint of the morning, or low point depending on whose shoes you had to fill, came when Russert paraded out James Carville and Mary Matalin as the quadrennial spokesmodels of the politically divided American family. Unlike previous joint appearances, there was little jovial jousting Sunday morning. Instead, both appeared agitated -- Carville cast a downward gaze at the table and uttered little. Matalin was more assertive, but the cold war between the two was palpable. One had to wonder if the royal couple of the Beltway would be the first casualties of the 2000 election.

Palm Beach County became ground zero of the contentious Florida recount when it was revealed that a total of 30,000 of its 425,000 ballots were disqualified, 19,000 because voters had punched holes for more than one candidate on its now-maligned butterfly ballot. Another 3,407 votes went to Reform Party conservative Pat Buchanan in this liberal stronghold.

Broward and Volusia counties are also proceeding with manual recounts because of ballot problems discovered on Election Night and the following days of scrutiny.

By Salon Staff

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