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Overseas Ballots Aid Bush

_____ Update _____
Latest Florida Numbers

Updated 9:11 AM

Unofficial AP Count

Bush leads by 927 votes in overseas absentee ballots; 66 of 67 counties reporting.

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Election Day is just the beginning. Keep up with Al Kamen's In the Loop, Steve Barr's Federal Diary and news from The Post's Federal Page.

By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 18, 2000; Page A1

Texas Gov. George W. Bush's lead in Florida's presidential contest grew last night as officials tabulated overseas absentee ballots, although Vice President Gore maintained hopes of pulling out a victory because of the large number of ballots being recounted by hand.

With 65 of 67 counties reporting, Bush had picked up 1,057 absentee votes from overseas to 597 for Gore. That gave Bush an overall lead of 760 votes statewide, according to tallies by the Associated Press. Bush began the day ahead by 300 votes.

The absentee ballots had to be counted by midnight and turned over to the Florida secretary of state by noon today. Because many of these ballots are from members of the military stationed abroad-who traditionally favor Republicans over Democrats-the Bush campaign has expected its margins to grow when the totals are collected. But Republicans were angered that more than 1,000 absentee ballots were thrown out for alleged irregularities.

Gore's forces were counting on erasing Bush's lead by picking up votes during the laborious and controversial manual recounting of all the ballots in three predominantly Democratic counties.

Broward and Palm Beach counties were planning to be recounting ballots through the weekend. A third jurisdiction, Miami-Dade, gave Gore a potential new boost late yesterday by announcing it had reversed an earlier decision and would recount by hand about 654,000 ballots.

Gore had picked up 48 votes in Broward late last night with more than one-fifth of the precincts counted. Palm Beach announced results of a few precincts.

Aides to the vice president were heartened by these results and said they believe Gore will overtake the Republican candidate if the hand count trends continue and, equally important, that vote is certified-the subject of a bitter and continuing legal battle.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was planning to certify the final state totals today, without including revised numbers from the three counties doing manual recounts. But yesterday the state's Supreme Court ordered Harris not to certify the results and to wait until the court rules on whether new hand-count numbers should be included in the final tally.

The Gore campaign has argued that a manual recount is necessary in certain jurisdictions because, they say, voting machines failed to recognize many votes for Gore when ballots were not fully punched through.

In one piece of welcome news for Gore, Broward officials announced they would use a more expansive standard in evaluating whether voters meant to mark their ballots for one candidate or another.

They will begin counting indentations by candidate names, not just fully or partially punched boxes. The change could increase the overall number of votes counted, a majority of which are expected to go for Gore, based on the overall election results.

Aides to Gore were projecting last night that the vice president's 48-vote gain in 132 Broward precincts would grow to 250 or more when all 609 precincts are counted. They based the figure on the number of ballots in those precincts where the machine tally showed no vote for president.

There were 896 of these "undervotes," and something in the range of 6,675 undervotes in the county. So the 896 represent 13 percent of the total undervote, and Gore aides project they will get a proportional boost from the rest of the county.

In Palm Beach, Day Two of the manual count went much more slowly than officials had expected, with numerous disputes between Republicans and Democratic observers. What was billed as a six-day recount of 462,657 ballots will go on for 10 days or more at the current pace.

Palm Beach officials released the changes from only a few precincts: Bush had a net gain of four votes. They said early in the day they had completed a manual count of 3.5 percent of the ballots but did not announce the results.

Charles Burton, one of the three members of the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, told reporters that the count was going slowly because observers from the two parties were questioning so many ballots. Burton said many objections turned out to be frivolous.

In one precinct, he said, observers from both sides identified 281 of the 1,800 ballots as questionable: In the end, after lawyers and the canvassing board examined them, there were only three changes.

Burton said the board decided to set aside questionable ballots for examination and counting later.

The overseas absentee ballot tabulation was also drawing controversy. Many of those ballots were being tossed out by county elections officials because they were postmarked too late or for other reasons.

More than 1,000 overseas ballots were rejected and 1,400 were accepted. Republicans complained of a coordinated Democratic effort to reject overseas ballots-especially from military personnel.

In some counties, half or nearly all the ballots were rejected, many of them military ballots that apparently didn't have postmarks.

Orange County rejected 117 of its 147 overseas ballots.

"The party of the man who wants to be the next commander-in-chief is trying to throw out the votes of the men and women he will be commanding," charged Jim Post, a Republican lawyer in Duval County (Jacksonville), where 107 ballots were rejected.

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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