The Florida recount continues, and while newspapers and partisans continue to debate which votes to count and how, preliminary results continue to trickle out. The latest surprise is a 6-vote gain for George W. Bush in heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County, according to the Palm Beach Post.
According to Salon's last tally of the media recount, using the most liberal standards, Vice President Al Gore had moved ahead by 96 votes. But using the Post's tally, Bush would regain the lead by 78 votes. That's because accepting the Post's tally means excluding the partial-recount numbers from Miami-Dade that the Florida Supreme Court had ordered the state to certify.
Confusing? It will only get more so on Friday, when the Miami Herald is expected to release the results from its review of undervotes in 50 counties, including Miami-Dade, just one day before Bush is sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States.
The Herald has joined forces with USA Today to count the state's 46,000 undervotes. Their efforts will be followed by a group of media organizations -- including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times -- that are planning a separate count of all of the state's contested undervotes.
Earlier recounts conducted by the Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel showed a cumulative gain of 250 votes for Gore in Lake and Hillsborough counties.
Like the Tampa Tribune's tally of punch-card ballots in Hillsborough, the Post's Miami-Dade numbers included the controversial dimpled chads. "If everything were counted -- from the faintest dimple to chads barely hanging on ballots -- 251 additional votes would have gone to Bush and 245 more would have gone to Gore," the Post wrote.
Taken together, the three media recounts would diminish Bush's lead to 293 votes. If you include the votes the Florida Supreme Court ruled should have been included in the final count -- 215 additional votes the vice president gained in Palm Beach County that were disallowed by Secretary of State Katherine Harris because they were late, Bush's lead would be slashed to 78 votes.
But the disagreements over recount numbers are likely to grow on Friday when the Herald releases its numbers. Up until now, there has been no overlap in the counties media organizations have targeted for their own recounts. But when the Herald numbers are released on Friday, there may well be conflicting sets of numbers coming from the same county. And the chaos could increase when individual members of the media consortium release their own numbers.
Democrats.com co-founder David Lytel said his organization's efforts have focused on so-called overvotes -- ballots that marked more than one presidential candidate. The goal is not to try to change the outcome of the election, Lytel says, but to determine whether there was any evidence of voter fraud. Overvotes, he argued, are the easiest way to perpetuate fraud, whether by punching an extra chad or by making an extra mark on a optical scan ballot to render a ballot unreadable by a vote-counting machine.
"At this point, what the hell is the point of counting undervotes?" he asked in a telephone interview. "It doesn't lead to any action that would prevent this in the future. It doesn't find the bad guys and bring them to justice."
Democrats.com completed three investigations of overvotes in North Florida counties, including Gasden, Jackson and Calhoun counties. In Gadsden, the group found 40 ballots with extra marks "that were clear votes for Al Gore," Lytel said. George Drumming, who helped count ballots for the group, said, "There was not a single case of mysterious extraneous marks appearing on any ballots for George W. Bush."
In Jackson, the group reviewed 7,000 of the county's 17,000 ballots. Specifically, they were looking for ballots on which election officials had placed stickers over extraneous marks that would have prevented the optical scan ballots from being read by the machine.
But far from any nefarious Republican plot, the group found 98 ballots with stickers; 87 had stickers that rendered them as votes for Gore.
Lytel said his group is focusing on "anecdotal evidence" from Democrats in South Florida about "potentially thousands of people permitted to vote who are not U.S. citizens." Normally, those types of investigations are aimed would-be Democratic voters, such as former California Rep. Robert Dornan's contention that his 1996 defeat at the hand of Loretta Sanchez was due to illegal residents casting ballots on her behalf.
But Lytel says it was Republicans who perpetuated the fraud in South Florida, though he has no hard evidence to support his claims. "The word is there was a concerted effort by Republican members of the Cuban community that arranged to vote for Bush in retaliation for Elián González," he said. "I'm talking to an accounting firm to see what it would cost to do a full accounting of Miami-Dade and Broward counties to get all the people who voted who are not U.S. citizens."
Lytel said the process would be imperfect and costly. "You can take the list of people who voted and their registration information and check their citizenship as best you can," he said. "Unfortunately, there's no one place where you can check a list of U.S. citizens, but there are ways -- checking Social Security numbers, using consumer records -- to determine whether they are legitimate."
Judicial Watch is also investigating voter fraud charges in South Florida -- fraud that would have benefited Al Gore. The Miami Herald has reported that as many as 445 felons, the vast majority of whom were registered Democrats, cast votes in the last election. Felons are prohibited from voting by Florida state law. Calls to Judicial Watch seeking comment were not returned.
In earlier independent recounts, Gore gained 120 votes in a survey of Hillsborough County's undervotes by the Tampa Tribune. A net total of 97 of the new Gore votes were from dimpled chads. Gore picked up 28 votes from ballots with various types of hanging chads. Bush had a net gain of 5 votes from 89 ballots that were clearly punched through but were not read by the machine. In a Dec. 30 article, the Tampa Tribune included the dimpled chads to come up with the total figure of Gore picking up 120 votes county-wide.
A recent recount of ballots in Lake County by the Orlando Sentinel gave Gore an additional 130 votes. Lake uses a computerized optical-scan system, so chad interpretations did not come into play.
And then there are the academics. A study of 1,700 overvotes in Miami-Dade County was conducted by Anthony Salvanto, a faculty fellow in the political science department of the University of California-Irvine.
For his research, Salvanto focused on ballots he believes were not lined up correctly in the state's now-infamous punch-card ballot voting machines. All of the ballots in the study had a chad punched that didn't correspond to any candidate.
If the voters' cards had been aligned properly, Salvanto said, Vice President Al Gore would have gained 316 more votes than President-elect George W. Bush.
The Palm Beach Post review of Miami-Dade County ballots also revealed many ballots that were apparently inserted incorrectly into voting machines. The Post reported "at least 2,257 voters apparently poked at their ballot cards without properly inserting them into the voting machines," but Miami-Dade County Elections Supervisor David Leahy told the paper there was no way those votes could have counted, because the voters failed to follow directions.
Of these miscast votes, 302 more would have gone for Gore than Bush, Leahy told the Post.
But those overvotes were never in question by either the Gore campaign or the Florida Supreme Court. The only recounts that would have mattered, if the U.S. Supreme Court had not intervened, were the examinations of the state's 46,000 undervotes.