Friday, November 10, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Bush has razor-thin lead
Claims of voting irregularities mount

WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) — Democrat Al Gore cut into Republican George W. Bush’s razor-thin lead today in the continuing recount of 6 million presidential ballots in Florida, as claims of voting irregularities mounted in the state that will decide who wins the White House.

With ballots from 32 out of 67 Florida counties recounted, Texas Governor Bush had only 941 more votes than Vice-President Gore, according to CNN’s website. Mr Gore picked up 1,189 votes in the excruciatingly tight race while Mr Bush gained 346 votes.

The Miami Herald’s website said after 28 counties, Mr Gore had shaved 841 votes from Mr Bush’s 1,784-vote advantage.

Florida officials said they expected the total recount to be completed by late today and that most absentee ballots had probably been included in Tuesday’s tally. The ultimate winner must get Florida’s electoral votes to clinch the 270 electoral votes required to win the White House.

In a sign of how tight the race is, election workers in Pinellas County launched a second recount of votes today after a first recount produced a swing of more than 400 votes to Mr Gore.

The recount is taking place in a climate of controversy after Democrats said 19,000 ballots had been disqualified in Palm Beach County in Florida and amid claims of voter irregularities, with some voters saying that they had mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Mr Gore.

In addition, Attorney-General Janet Reno said she would review a request for an investigation into allegations of Florida voting irregularities in response to a request from the national association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

Mr Buchanan told NBC's “today” show that he believed most of the 3,407 votes he got in a Florida county belonged to Mr Gore and that people had voted for him by mistake because of a confusing change in the design of the ballot paper.

“I don’t want any votes that I did not receive and I don’t want to win any votes by mistake,” said Mr Buchanan, who has been strongly critical of both Mr Bush and Mr Gore in the past.

“It seems to me that these 3,000 votes people are talking about — most of those are probably not my vote and that may be enough to give the margin to Mr Gore,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida said 19,000 votes in Palm Beach County in his state had been disqualified because of the confusing design of the ballot paper.

Mr Wexler said because of the way the ballot was laid out, many people had double-punched their cards, leading to disqualification because they voted twice — once for Mr Gore and then for Mr Buchanan.

“I’m hearing outrage. I’m hearing hysteria, quite frankly. Because they feel that in overwhelming numbers they voted for Al Gore and yet their votes are not being counted,” Mr Wexler told CBS's “The Early Show.”

Mr Wexler argued the ballot was illegal because under Florida law, the order of the candidates on the ballot is fixed, and in this case, should have been Mr Bush first and Mr Gore second. At least two lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts challenging the result.

Mr Buchanan said he was also interested in the case of the 19,000 votes, adding that he did not think the election could be redone in that county.

“I don’t want to take any votes that don’t belong to me,” Mr Buchanan said, adding that he had not campaigned in Palm Beach and that the majority of those votes probably were for Mr Gore.

Mr Gore’s campaign manager, Mr William Daley, said his campaign’s lawyers were looking at whether to mount a court challenge over the Florida vote.

“We’re going to meet with the lawyers and supporters today and try to come up with some decisions as to how to proceed,” Mr Daley told CNN.

“This vote is now down to 900 or less spread between Governor Bush and the Vice-President, but with 19,000 ballots in one county being discarded by virtue of an obvious confusion, it raises a serious question,” Mr Daley added.

However, he stressed there should not be a “rush to judgment,” adding there was not a constitutional crisis.

Former Secretary of State James Baker, who represents Mr Bush in the recount, downplayed lawsuits filed against the vote. “You can sue anybody for anything these days,” he said in an interview with NBC.

Mr Bush’s brother Jeb Bush is the governor of Florida and he said yesterday he would withdraw from the board that determines who will win the crucial vote in his state and ultimately the White House.

Mr Gore actually won more total votes than Mr Bush in the overall race, carrying the popular vote by less than 1 percentage point — around 150,000 votes out of almost 100 million cast.

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