- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

They're back the biggest PR nightmare for the warm, azure skies of Florida since "Jaws," Hurricane Andrew, and the INS raid on the Gonzales house combined. Dimples and punch cards and chads made front page headlines all over again this week when USA Today, the Miami-Herald and Knight Ridder Newspapers announced, having applied "the most lenient standard" to count the 10,646 so-called "undervotes" of Miami-Dade County, that Al Gore picked up only an extra 49 votes.

This is nowhere near the 600 or so votes the former vice president's post-campaign operatives have long insisted were lost in an electoral El Dorado of Southern Florida that would have delivered them to the White house. As Martin Baron, the Herald's executive editor, put it, "There were many people who expected there was a bonanza of votes here for Al Gore, and it turns out there was not." That means that even if these latest "results" were added to those already tabulated in the three other Democratic counties picked out by Mr. Gore for hand-counts Volusia, Palm Beach and Broward Counties the outcome would still remain George W. Bush, president; Al Gore, professor.

Of course, this latest tally is strictly academic or, rather, journalistic with no bearing on the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Nor is it even definitive. Last month, the green-eyeshades at the Palm Beach Post announced, by their figuring, that Mr. Bush had picked up an additional six votes in Miami-Dade, while next month, a consortium including The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and assorted Florida outlets is expected to reveal its own interpretation of the hanging, pregnant, swinging and dimpled chads of the entire Sunshine State.

To what avail? That is, how weighty are results of the following description: "The review found that 1,555 [ballots] bore some kind of marking that might be interpreted as a vote for Gore. An additional 1,506 bore a marking that might be interpreted as a vote for Bush," reported Knight Ridder. Some kind of marking that might be interpreted? Maybe it's time to dump the ballots and just try tea leaves.

To date, Democrats have, alas, had their problems with reality. "Our strategy of focusing on four counties might not have benefited Gore," said Doug Hattaway, Mr. Gore's former spokesman, in response to the new media tally. Might? The ever-vituperative Terry McAuliffe, Bill Clinton's hand-picked chairman of the Democratic National Committee wouldn't even come that close to the facts. "Al Gore won Florida," he declared in response to the Miami Herald-USA Today report. "If Republicans" 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," he continued. "A fair and accurate counting of all the votes in Florida will show that the wrong man is sitting in the White House today."

It would be a relief to think the war is over, but it sounds as if it is just beginning.

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