- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. More votes were disqualified in conservative Duval County than in the liberal Palm Beach County, leading Republicans to believe that double-punched ballots in Florida hurt George W. Bush almost as much as Al Gore.
But Republicans opted against requesting a hand recount of Duval and other conservative counties because they were already denouncing such tallies as unconstitutional in Democratic counties where hand recounts were under way.
"They're recounting in Palm Beach, but of course there's no recounting going on in the Republican counties because the Bush folks didn't ask for it within the 72-hour deadline," said a Republican official in Florida's panhandle.
"It wouldn't have been statesmanlike for Bush to say, 'Hey, I want manual recounts in the following counties,' " explained the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Still, it doesn't seem fair that they're only going to count the Democratic counties."
Duval County election officials disqualified 21,942 ballots because voters had chosen more than one presidential candidate. Since the Texas governor won 59 percent of the vote in Duval, Republicans have extrapolated that he would have netted another 3,730 votes if the true intentions of the double counters could be divined.
"Naturally, if you count ballots that are thrown out, it's fair to assume that he's going to win by the same margin," said another Florida Republican. "They would both pick up votes, but it would definitely help Bush more than Gore just like it helps Gore more in Palm Beach. I mean, I think that's a story that nobody's talking about."
In Palm Beach County, 19,120 ballots were disqualified because voters selected more than one presidential candidate. Since the vice president won 64 percent of the vote in Palm Beach, he could conceivably net as many as another 5,277 votes there.
Such a gain is actually a possibility for Mr. Gore because a hand count is under way in Palm Beach County. But since Republicans decided not to ask for a recount in Duval, Mr. Bush's would-be gain of 3,730 seems unlikely to trim Mr. Gore's Palm Beach pickup of 5,277 votes to 1,547.
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in Duval County by nearly 3-to-2, there are so many Reagan Democrats that Mr. Bush carried the county by 44,000 votes, out of more than 260,000 ballots cast, officials there said.
"We have more Democrats in Duval County, but registered Democrats can vote the other way," said Susan Tucker Johnson, spokeswoman for the Duval County Elections Supervisor.
Still, officials at the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee said yesterday they had little interest in making an issue of counties like Duval at the moment. That is because they have pinned their hopes on yesterday's ruling by the Florida secretary of state that might make hand counts in Palm Beach and other Democratic counties a moot point.
Citing Florida law, Secretary of State Katherine Harris ruled that the counties must have all recounts completed by 5 p.m. today. Election officials are not expected to meet that deadline with hand counts in Palm Beach and Dade counties, although a hand count in Volusia County might be completed in time.
Gore lawyers joined several counties yesterday in a state lawsuit that seeks to extend the deadline. If that lawsuit fails, Republicans believe they will not have to resort to recounts in Duval and other conservative Florida counties or other states where Mr. Gore won narrowly.
But if the lawsuit prevails, Duval might get a closer look by Republicans. Although the 72-hour deadline for a hand recount request has passed, Bush supporters might be able to force such a tally if they go to court within 10 days of a statewide certification of ballots.
"If the ruling by Harris holds up, Bush wins," said the panhandle Republican. "If it doesn't, I have to believe that they are just going to go in there and seek a recount of Duval and seek recounts everywhere in the country.
"But I think for the moment, they're holding their breath, hoping this secretary of state's decision stands," he added. "They should win then."
Even if the ruling is overturned and Republicans succeed in obtaining a hand recount in Duval, it might be difficult to argue that double-punched ballots were meant for either Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore. That's because unlike the Palm Beach butterfly ballot, in which presidential candidates are listed on facing pages in a format that Democrats called confusing, voters in Duval County had to turn a page to get to the second half of the list of presidential candidates.
"All of this is speculation, but we think probably they punched a hole on the first page and then turned the second page and punched again," Mrs. Johnson said. "Who knows? It's one of those things where you say, 'OK, here's the instructions,' and you hope people will pay attention to those instructions."

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