Officials scramble to begin recounting

By Ron Word, Associated Press, 12/9/2000

ACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Elections officials across Florida scrambled yesterday to begin counting ballots as they tried to digest the state Supreme Court ruling ordering new recounts.

''We're trying to find a way to sort those ballots out,'' said elections supervisor Marcia Wood in Liberty County, where just 29 undervotes were buried in a pile of nearly 2,600 ballots.

Undervotes are ballots on which no vote for president was registered by machines during the mechanical vote. Punchcard ballots, used in some Florida counties, are particularly susceptible to undervoting because a voter can punch the card but fail to push the chad all the way through.

Yesterday, the state's high court ordered all undervotes to be considered in every county where officials had yet to examine them.

Vice President Al Gore had sought to force a recount of the undervote in Miami-Dade County, and those ballots had already been trucked to Tallahassee in case they were needed. But the justices went a step further, ordering that every county count the ballots that may have been missed by the machine counts.

The court order will require the examination of 40,000 or more undervotes in 64 Florida counties. The order does not affect Palm Beach, Broward, and Volusia counties, where the undervotes already have been examined.

In addition to the 9,000 undervotes in Dade County specifically cited by the court, Duval County has the next largest batch with 4,967, more than 10 percent of the total.

Other counties with significant numbers of undervotes include Hillsborough, with 5,531; Pinellas, 4,226; Marion, 2,445; Collier, 2,082; Lee, 2,017; Pasco, 1,776; and Indian River, 1,058.

Opposing camps geared up their operations to oversee the counting. Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for Gore's operation in Florida, said recount veterans in Palm Beach County led a training session yesterday morning in a Tallahassee AFL-CIO union hall to show recruits how it is done.

While the core of Democratic monitors remained on standby in Florida, between 50 and 100 former campaign aides who had left the state to go home were being called back.

In many counties, officials were trying to figure out how they would find the uncounted ballots, which were buried in the full stack of ballots. In Bradford County, officials must look for 40 undervotes out of 9,417 cast.

''It will be somewhat like finding needles in a haystack. It will be a fairly time-consuming procedure,'' said Terry Vaughan.

Other officials anxiously awaited direction from state elections officials.

''We're just standing by. We haven't gotten any ruling down from the state. We won't do anything until we get direction,'' said elections secretary Janet Greico in Charlotte County.

But state officials themselves were also trying to figure out what to do next.

''Right now I'm reading the 69-page opinion and trying to determine what we're going to be doing,'' said Clay Roberts, director of the state Division of Elections. ''I'm very busy right now.''