- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

MIAMI Janet Reno refused last night to concede in Florida's Democratic gubernatorial primary, despite trailing Tampa lawyer Bill McBride by 11,000 votes with 99 percent of the state's precincts reporting.

Miss Reno instead huddled with a legal team, while her campaign spoke of potential legal action. Last night, the Reno campaign said it has found discrepancies in Tuesday's election.

"We are looking for all the votes to be counted, and it looks like this may not have been the case," said Mo Elleithee, campaign manager for the Reno campaign. "There were far too many people denied their right to vote. We will not make any decisions, though, until all the votes have been counted."

The McBride campaign, on the verge of coming back from a 30-point polling deficit to overtake the Clinton administration attorney general, said it will wait for either a 100 percent vote count or a Reno concession.

"Miss Reno has assured the people of Florida that she will support the Democratic nominee, and that is what we expect she will do," said McBride campaign spokesman Alan Stonecipher.

Late last night, Mr. McBride had 599,465 votes, or 45 percent, and Miss Reno had 588,177 votes, or 44 percent. The winner will challenge Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in November.

Voting troubles plagued Miami-Dade and Broward counties Tuesday, both counties that are key to a Reno victory. Late-opening polling sites, technical troubles, and no-show poll workers caused confusion and a manual vote count.

The laborious vote counting recalled Election 2000, when the presidential election was drawn out for 36 days because of voting irregularities that centered on Democratic-heavy South Florida.

A rental truck carrying several voting machines pulled up behind the downtown county administration building in Fort Lauderdale around 12:30 p.m. Officials said technical flaws made it necessary for workers to count votes from the hard drives of the computer-operated machines.

Other workers arrived later with blue canvas bags holding the computer cartridges from voting machines in precincts that were apparently not turned in the previous night.

Lawmakers yesterday pronounced it another flawed major election that appeared to mock the $32 million in funding they added.

"This is so embarrassing," said state Rep. Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat from Broward County. "We are taking baby steps when we should be taking giant steps."

Democratic state Sen. Steve Geller yesterday cautioned that if the Reno campaign challenges the primary result, it "would hand the election to Jeb Bush."

"I don't believe that there is even a legal remedy here and this is not a case, as in 2000, where a few hundred votes separate the candidates."

He said his brother, Joe, was part of Miss Reno's legal team and is conferring with them about potential litigation. The two brothers share a law practice, but Steve Geller is a McBride supporter.

Secretary of State Jim Smith said in a midday press conference that the state legislature had allocated $6 million for voter education and poll-worker training and in "about 60 counties" those goals were accomplished.

But in a handful of counties, the performance was "not acceptable. It is simply a matter of getting their act together."

Mr. Smith said several polls closed early despite Mr. Bush's emergency order that closing times be extended statewide by two hours to 9 p.m.

"There was one story I heard in Miami-Dade of a worker closing down because he had to go to his Lion's Club meeting," said Mr. Smith, who took over his office in July from Katherine Harris, who resigned to run for Congress.

He stopped short of asking at least two elections supervisors David Leahy in Miami-Dade and Miriam Oliphant in Broward for their resignations, but said, "It is unacceptable that people cannot get themselves organized."

Democratic state Sen. Ron Klein blamed elections supervisors in the counties as well as at the state level.

"I would scream the word 'incompetence,'" Mr. Klein said. "There is incompetence at the office of the supervisors, and incompetence at the secretary of state's office, which has oversight. But we're also talking about [election supervisors] who have to run elections two days a year. There is no excuse for this."

Miss Oliphant yesterday said she would request a citizens' review board be assembled concerning her performance.

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