- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. More affidavits have been filed in a federal lawsuit challenging hand counts of presidential votes in three South Florida counties, with at least one claiming ballot counters have been eating chads.

"One of our guys observed another guy licking his finger and putting chads in his mouth," said George LeMieux, a Republican observer who is watching the hand count of 588,000 Broward County ballots. "We have also found that the Democrats were telling workers that if they found stray chads to get rid of them." Chads are the minuscule pieces of paper punched out to cast a vote.

Also yesterday in Democratic-leaning Broward, a county attorney informed the election canvassing board that the current standard used to count a vote a chad attached to a ballot by at least two of its four corners may be loosened.

The opinion means that ballots to which either side objects are being set aside until the new standard is further considered. The prevailing wisdom is that the looser the standard, the more likely a ballot is to go to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore.

"It means that Gore wasn't getting enough votes here," Mr. LeMieux said.

Chad-eating is one more charge made by Republicans who maintain that the hand count in three of Florida's most Democratic counties is tainted and geared toward giving the vice president the Florida vote and thereby a presidential victory.

The latest figures here give Texas Gov. George W. Bush a 930-vote margin out of some 6 million votes cast.

Mr. Gore leads in the nationwide popular vote by about 200,000 votes. Only three times in the nation's history has a candidate won the popular vote but lost the presidential race, the last time being in 1888.

While there were no reports of chad-eating in Palm Beach County "I think these counters are well fed," noted Bush spokesman Tucker Eskew Republican attorneys continue to collect loose chads from the floors of counting rooms.

"Every day there are more incidents and we continue to file affidavits," Mr. Eskew said.

In one such incident, a counter dropped a box of ballots, spilling its contents over the floor of the counting room.

The counters are county employees and by mandate must be equally divided between the two parties. Reports of loose chads continue to come in, as the ballots are handled repeatedly, sometimes by several people.

"These are not the same ballots turned in on Nov. 7," said Jim Higgins, a Republican Party worker and local lawyer.

County Judge Charles Burton, the Palm Beach County canvassing board chairman, has cautioned workers to be gentle with the ballots.

Judge Burton said Republicans in particular are too concerned about stray chads, recalling what happened when a scrap of paper fell to the floor. With a chuckle, he quoted a GOP monitor yelling, "There's a chad on the floor. Help."

"We just sent a bag of 283 chads to Austin," noted Scott McClellan, a Bush spokesman. The chads were collected from the floor of the counting room at the Broward County's emergency operations center, where county workers have been counting the ballots since Friday.

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