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Newspapers: Gore Would Have Won

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - A ballot design that confused voters into chosing two candidates cost Democrat Al Gore 6,607 votes in Palm Beach County, The Palm Beach Post reported in its Sunday editions.

The newspaper counted more than 19,000 overvotes, or ballots on which more than one vote was recorded for a presidential candidate. It concluded the net gain of votes for Gore would have been 10 times more than he needed to erase Republican George W. Bush's slim margin of 537 votes in the state.

Many voters had complained that the butterfly ballot was confusing because candidates' names appeared on both sides of the punchcard with holes in the middle. They expected the holes to select Bush and Gore to be the first two choices as required by Florida statutes, but instead found Buchanan, on a facing page, located between them.

According to the newspaper's review, 5,330 ballots were thrown out because voters punched chads for Gore and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, whose name appeared just above Gore's.

Another 2,908 voters punched Gore's name and Socialist David McReynolds, the candidate whose name appeared just below Gore's.

Bush lost 1,631 votes because people selected both Bush and Buchanan. Buchanan's name appeared just below Bush on the ballot.

The two Gore combinations, minus the Bush-Buchanan votes, add up to 6,607 lost votes for Gore.

``What it shows is what we've been saying all along there is no question that the majority of people on Election Day believed they left the booth voting for Al Gore,'' said Ron Klain, Gore's former chief of staff and his lead legal strategist in Florida.

Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, a vocal Bush supporter, dismissed the findings.

``You're trying too hard to find a correlation here,'' Racicot said. ``You don't know these people, you don't know what they intended.''

The Post reported that even if 1 percent of the 6,607 votes were intended for Buchanan or McReynolds - more than their combined percent of Palm Beach County's total vote - Gore would still have received 6,541 votes.

Three-fourths of the overvotes had punches for two candidates, most of which experts said can be attributed to the ballot design. The rest were for three or more candidates, which experts called voter error, not a design problem.

There were 5,062 voters who punched three or more choices for president. Twenty-eight voters selected all 10 presidential candidates.

The newspaper's review of overvotes was conducted between Jan. 17 and Jan. 29.

In a story published Saturday, The Post reported that Gore would have gained 784 votes in Palm Beach County if every ballot that had a hanging chad, pinhole or dimple was counted.

Had The Post's standard been used and its tally applied without any changes in counting procedures in Florida's 66 other counties, the tally also would have erased Bush's victory margin in the state.

In Palm Beach County's official 10-day manual recount, Gore gained 174 votes. Those were not counted in the statewide tally because the county canvassing board missed the deadline by two hours.

The newspaper looked at the 9,150 ballots that county officials said had no vote for president - commonly called ``undervotes'' - and found that 5,736 had a mark for either Bush or Gore. There were 462,350 ballots cast in the county, which Gore carried by an almost two-to-one margin.

During its manual recount, the Palm Beach canvassing board members - who were all Democrats - struggled over which ballots should be counted, so board Chairman Charles Burton went to court in hopes of having a firm standard set.

But Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga ruled that the board should judge every ballot on its own merit and count those where the voter's intent could be determined. The board counted very few dimpled ballots.

The newspaper's examination of ballots the board rejected broke them into three categories.

The paper found that Bush would have had a net gain of 14 votes if the canvassing board had counted the 62 undervotes that had a hanging chad. That's where a candidate's square is partially detached or is hanging from the ballot.

But, the newspaper found, Gore would have had a net gain of 25 votes if the canvassing board had also counted the 313 ballots where light could be seen through the perforations or through a pinhole in the square. None of the corners of these chads were detached.

Finally, the paper found that Gore would have had a net gain of 784 votes if the board had also counted the 5,361 ballots that had a dimpled chad, which means the chad had an indentation but no light could be seen through a pinhole or its edges.

Burton pointed out a problem with The Post's method. If the canvassing board had counted dimpled chads as votes, it would have had to reject the ballots where voters made a clear punch for one candidate and made a dimple for another because that would have reflected an overvote. It is unknown how many ballots would have been disqualified if that had been done.

The Post is not the only newspaper reviewing Florida ballots. Two groups are conducting examinations in all 67 counties.

The first group, which consists of The Miami Herald, its parent company Knight Ridder, and USA Today, had completed its examination in 65 of 67 counties as of Wednesday.

The other group consists of The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, The Palm Beach Post, St. Petersburg Times, The Wall Street Journal and Tribune Publishing, which owns the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. As of Tuesday, it still had 20 counties remaining.


-- anna (cgf@emai.com), April 03, 2001

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