Election whiplash leaves Florida officials in limbo

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2000

The Associated Press

MIAMI – The monthlong vote count in Florida was on-again, off-again on Saturday.

The day began with confusion and grumbling, as election officials tried to comply with a state Supreme Court order to recount all votes passed over by machines. Then the U.S. Supreme Court told them to quit, granting Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s request for a temporary stay.

Email newsletter signup

”I’m frustrated with the pingponging around,” said Highlands County Judge Olin Shinholser, a member of the canvassing board and a Republican. ”I’d like to see some finality, one way or the other.”

With the news, Republicans in Hillsborough County began hugging each other. At the Leon County Library, where more than 9,000 votes from Miami-Dade County were being counted, about 50 Bush supporters broke into song: ”Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”

”They are trying to crown King George,” said Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat from Duval County. ”It’s a yo-yo and it just keeps going.”

In Pinellas County, the board was slogging through the recount as the news scrolled across the television screen and the crowd allowed to watch the counting began shouting. Officials stopped after counting 224 ballots of the estimated 4,226 undervotes. The result at the time of the stay: 2 votes for Bush, 1 for Vice President Al Gore.

In Gulf County, the recount had just finished. ”We’re just now fixin’ to sign the certification,” sighed elections supervisor Cora Sue Robinson, a Democrat. ”We’ve wasted a whole day.” No votes changed there.

The massive recount brought on its share of chaos even without the wrenching stop brought by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision.

Election officials had been facing a 2 p.m. Sunday deadline to recount some 45,000 votes. At the start of the day, Bush led Gore by 193 votes statewide out of 6 million ballots cast.

Duval County election officials, all Republicans, had sought an extension until Tuesday, prompting Gore campaign official Mike Langton to protest, ”Their attention is not on accuracy, it is on delay.” Duval has almost 5,000 undervotes.

The Duval board was stunned when the Supreme Court stay came down. ”This is surreal,” said Republican attorney Jim Post.

In Hamilton County on the Georgia border, county Judge David Bembry spent the morning on his tractor mowing hay – he said the order didn’t apply to his county because officials already hand-counted the missing votes in November.

In Tallahassee, the Miami-Dade ballots were being counted at the speedy rate of a thousand an hour. (Those ballots had been trucked north for part of last week’s trial.)

Earlier in the day, election officials in each county struggled with how to decide their own standard. Which votes should be counted – a pinprick, a dimple, a hanging chad?

”I don’t consider a soft indentation to be voter intent. I believe that is going too far in trying to get in the minds of voters,” said Pam Iorio, the Hillsborough County elections supervisor and a Democrat.

Democrats argued that a mark or indentation on a ballot should be considered voter intent. Republicans countered that elections officials should only consider a trend of incomplete marks on individual ballots.

Three counties – Palm Beach, Broward and Volusia – didn’t have to conduct recounts because their undervotes had already been examined.

Many counties planned to run all their ballots through the counting machines to separate out those with no machine-readable presidential vote. They would then count those votes by hand.

The midafternoon stay from the nation’s highest court brought even more chaos.

Some elections officials said they would put everything on hold until further notice. Others said they would continue to run their ballots through the vote-counting machines to find the undervotes.

”We’ve had so many curveballs thrown at us over the past few months, nothing surprises me,” said Bradford County elections supervisor Terry Vaughan.

Others breathed a sigh of relief. ”I can go make Christmas cookies for my grandchildren,” said Dee Brown, elections supervisor in Marion County.

Still others just didn’t believe it.

”It sounds like a rumor to me,” said Okaloosa County elections supervisor Patricia Hollarn, who was in a warehouse with vote counters. ”We’re going to keep on counting.” She said she hadn’t received any official notification.

In addition to the 9,000 undervotes in Miami-Dade County, Hillsborough County had the next largest batch with 5,531, followed by Duval, 4,967; Pinellas, 4,226; Marion, 2,445; Collier, 1,102; Lee, 2,017; Sarasota, 1,809; Pasco, 1,776; and Indian River, 1,058.