Bush expert: Manual recounts sometimes necessary

Under cross-examination in a Florida court, an election equipment salesman undermines the official Republican line.

By Salon Staff
December 3, 2000 9:51PM (UTC)
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The Florida circuit court case on which Al Gore's presidential hopes depend took a surprising turn Sunday when a voting machine expert called by the Bush team conceded that manual recounts were called for "in very close elections."

The statement by election equipment salesman John Ahmann contradicted the Republicans' contention that manual recounts are inherently subjective and unreliable and appeared to bolster Gore's position. Ahmann, who helped design election equipment for IBM, made the statement under cross-examination by Democratic lawyer Steve Zack.


Earlier, in direct testimony, Ahmann sought to discredit the Gore camp's claim that chad buildup on ballot-punching machines could result in ballots not getting fully punched through. "I seriously doubt that a voter would be unable to push the chad through using such a device," he told the court.

While Leon County Judge N. Sanders Sauls had hoped to finish hearing testimony on Saturday, the case crawled along at such a somnambulistic pace that it was expected to continue throughout the day Sunday. The slow progress was a bit of a setback for Gore, who has been battling for a manual recount of ballots in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and needs a speedy decision in his favor from Judge Sauls.

The Bush campaign said that among the seven witnesses it would call to the stand were experts as well as a voter and an elections observer who was present at a Florida polling place.


In his testimony on Sunday morning, statistician Laurentius Marais disputed the assertion of Gore attorneys that a hand recount in Miami-Dade County would yield more votes for the vice president. Marais said the statistical projections of the Gore campaign were based on a "false premise" because they focused on handpicked Democratic precincts where Gore won on Election Day.

Additional expert testimony was expected later Sunday afternoon, following a short break for lawyers and journalists alike to grab a sandwich and check their e-mail.

While the court case droned on, vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney pressed the Bush team's argument that "Sore Loserman" should concede. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert, Cheney said Al Gore has carried his legal battle too far and should concede defeat so a new administration can begin its work.


"All of us understand how difficult this is for him," Cheney said, but "I do think it's time for him to concede ... So far he's chosen not to do that, to pursue other avenues, and clearly that's his prerogative. But clearly, long-term, history would regard him in a better light if he were to bring this to a close in the near future."

The interview also offered an opportunity for the Bush campaign to brandish its latest weapon for drumming up the political support of Land Rover-driving BoBos: the threat of recession. "There's growing evidence out there that the economy is slowing down," Cheney warned. "We may well be on the front edge of a recession here." But don't fret: If Bush and Cheney do prevail in the White House battle, and can unite an impossibly divided Senate, they've got the answer: Bush's massive tax-cut proposal, which they argue would be like economic steroids.


Cheney offered a humorous take on what's going to be Washington's worst job: "I'm going to end up living on Capitol Hill as vice president," he said. Indeed, the vice president holds the constitutional responsibility for casting tie-breaking votes in Congress -- and in this coming two-ring partisan circus, he'll likely be playing ringmaster often if elected.

Cheney also disregarded a controversial Page 1 Miami Herald analysis of the Florida vote that concluded Gore would have won if the Florida election hadn't been such a mess. Without the chads -- those dimpled, pregnant and hung symbols of voter intent -- or the butterfly ballot, Al Gore would have carried the election by 23,000 votes, the analysis states. "I have not seen the article," Cheney said, but "if we're going to go down that road, then why don't we say that NBC and the other networks made an early call on Election Night and decided that Al Gore had carried Florida and announced it before the polls closed and thousands of Republicans in the Panhandle who would have otherwise cast their votes for George W. Bush and myself stayed home?"

Also appearing on the Sunday morning talkies was Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, responding to the news a day earlier that the state Legislature will hold a special session on Wednesday to consider appointing the state's 25 electors as a preventive measure against any court action that could overturn George W. Bush's certified win in the Sunshine State. Feeney, who gave Al Gore a run for his money in the Stepford politician department on ABC News' "This Week," said the Florida Legislature has been reading the history books and the papers of the Founding Fathers, and "the House is prepared to act" to defend the election results certified by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

Salon Staff

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