- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

The second independent count of Florida's disputed presidential ballots has again found George W. Bush to be the winner.

Al Gore gained only 49 votes in a media-sponsored review of the contested ballots in Florida's Miami-Dade County, which showed that he would not have been able to pick up enough votes to overcome Mr. Bush's narrow victory.

"What this shows is that all of the charges of Bush stealing Florida are without any basis whatsoever," said Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., Florida Republican. "It proves that this was a hard fought, close but fair election."

The latest review found that Mr. Gore might have actually lost votes in a complete recount of the county, where his supporters had predicted he would receive a net gain of about 600 additional votes, or enough to defeat Mr. Bush, who won the state by 537 votes.

The latest findings followed another earlier hand count in Miami-Dade by the Palm Beach Post, which found that, instead of Mr. Gore picking up hundreds of votes, Mr. Bush actually gained six votes.

But even the most lenient interpretation of the undercounted votes those that the voting machines could not read left Mr. Gore 140 votes short of what he needed. The newspapers that financed the recount said that Mr. Gore would not have overcome Mr. Bush even with the gains that the former vice president made in recounts in Volusia, Palm Beach and Broward counties that he had demanded.

The Miami-Dade findings were part of an independent study of 60,000 disputed ballots in Florida's 67 counties conducted by BDO Seidman, an accounting firm hired by USA Today, the Miami Herald, and the Knight Ridder newspaper chain, which owns the Herald. The Miami-Dade numbers are the first to be made public and complete results were expected to be released in a few weeks.

"There were many people who expected there was a bonanza of votes here [in Miami-Dade] for Al Gore, and it turns out there was not," said Martin Baron, the Herald's executive editor.

The preliminary results from the latest media review pleased President Bush, who said yesterday that he hoped the study's findings would end the prolonged controversy over the election..

"Hopefully all the focus on the past is over with. It's time to move forward," Mr. Bush told reporters.

But Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman, said that he had no intention of putting the issue behind him and insisted yesterday that "Al Gore won Florida."

"If Republicans think this one study of one county means Bush won Florida, then they're making the same mistake they've been making for months: They're not counting every vote," Mr. McAuliffe said in a statement.

"Even if you include the totals from one county today, Gore is still ahead and we are only part way through the press recount process," he said.

"A fair and accurate counting of all the votes in Florida will show that the wrong man is sitting in the White House today," he said.

But Al Cardenas, the Florida Republican chairman, told The Washington Times that "Terry McAuliffe is living in a fantasy land, hoping that enough innocent people will believe his unfounded statements."

"The truth is that the Miami Herald, using standards that are much more liberal than the standards that were dictated by the U.S. Supreme Court, still found George Bush the winner," Mr. Cardenas said.

"I encourage McAuliffe and the DNC to continue this song and dance because their credibility will be damaged as a result," he said.

The newspapers' ballot review concluded that Mr. Bush would have remained in the lead even if Secretary of State Katherine Harris had changed her initial vote-count certification to include revised returns from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties, the Miami Herald reported.

"We've never thought it's been in doubt. The overwhelming majority of the American people have moved on. This election has been resolved a long time ago," said Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush's press secretary.

The review not only showed Mr. Bush's election victory was holding up, but it also more fully revealed the extent to which voters erred in punching holes or in marking their ballot cards, producing the large number of votes that the voting machines were unable to read and hence did not tabulate.

There were no marks for president on 4,892 ballots, and 2,058 ballots had marks in spaces that were not assigned for voting for the president. Another 1,840 of the punches in the voting cards were in spaces that did not correspond to a candidate. Another 1,667 ballots showed holes punched beneath the spaces marked for either Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush.

The sponsors of the ballot review said that the results stemmed from the most lenient standard of interpreting the contested ballots.

Another statewide media-sponsored count of Florida's undercount votes is being conducted by several other news organizations, including the Associated Press, The Washington Post and the New York Times.

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