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Media's recount in Broward draws ire of Republicans

By Clay Lambert and Eliot Kleinberg, Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 20, 2000

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Two machine counts and a manual recount in Broward County failed to propel Democrat Al Gore to the White House, but Republicans worried Tuesday that an unofficial and ongoing media count could cast doubt on a George W. Bush presidency.

Little changed from Monday when counting began anew in the warehouse at 529 S.W. Second Ave. Representatives of seven news organizations -- includingThe Palm Beach Post -- and Judicial Watch leaned over a folding table as Broward County Supervisor of Elections officials held the cards aloft.

The count was suspended at 6 p.m. and will not resume until at least Jan. 3 so that elections staffers can enjoy a holiday break, said David Beirne, assistant supervisor of elections.

In two days, counters have looked at 871 ballots out of nearly 6,800 called into question during the manual recount of 588,007 ballots cast. An unscientific analysis byThe Palm Beach Post found 203 potential new Gore votes and 39 potential new votes for President-elect Bush.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, of West Palm Beach, traveled down from his district to provide the day's only fireworks. He challenged whether the ballots should be available under Florida's open records laws, and said the media's work would only serve to "undermine the legitimacy of the presidency."

"Mr. (Al) Gore conceded," Foley said. "That should have been the end of it. We could reopen the Warren Commission, too, but I don't think we would learn anything new about the assassination of John Kennedy."

Foley said the ballots are "not really a public record." In defense of his claim, he argued that the ballots are anonymous and therefore should be excluded from the state's open records laws. But a Leon County judge ruled otherwise last Friday in answer to open records requests from 11 news organizations.

Foley added that he was co-sponsoring a House bill, along with Arkansas Republican Asa Hutchinson, that would provide federal matching money for states willing to update older voting mechanisms such as the punch-card systems used in Broward and Palm Beach counties. He did not offer a price tag for such an upgrade but acknowledged that it could be hundreds of millions of dollars.

Foley was one of several Republicans who roamed the warehouse Monday and Tuesday. Democrat sightings were rare, however.

Chris Sautter is a Washington attorney who represented the Gore campaign during the November manual count in Broward County and author of a Democratic handbook called The Recount Primer. He stopped by briefly but said he was simply vacationing in Fort Lauderdale and not representing anyone on Tuesday.

"My client has conceded," he said.