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The BBC's Jon Leyne
"Republicans may step up their objections to individual ballot papers to try to delay the count beyond the deadline"
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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 04:18 GMT
Florida counters under pressure

Under stress: A Palm Beach vote counter
By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala

The decision by the Florida Supreme court to allow manual recounts in three counties to be added to the state's final vote tally has put the electoral officials concerned right at the very centre of the presidential battle.

While all of Americans and the world watch and wait, the people carrying out the count are under tremendous pressure to deliver a result in a short time.

It's like having election day for 10 days in a row... I feel like I'm incarcerated

Former Broward County count supervisor Jane Carroll
In one of the counties, Miami-Dade, election officials called off the planned recount because they said they could not realistically finish before the Sunday night deadline set by Florida's Supreme Court.

In the other two counties, Palm Beach and Broward, the counters' work is being scrutinised to the finest detail by both Republicans and Democrats - making them a political football on the largest scale.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that vote counters are in some cases being asked to make often borderline judgments on what voters may have intended - in the parlance of this election, whether a "dimpled chad" counts.

Pressure tells

The strain of has already told on Broward County canvassing supervisor Jane Carroll.

"It's like having election day for 10 days in a row... I feel like I'm incarcerated," said Mrs Carroll on Monday, as she announced a decision to resign and go on holiday to California.

A chad
A chad or bit of paper punched out when a vote is cast
She said she had to resign in order to protect her health.

Mrs Carroll had been working 15-hour days scrutinising ballots and arbitrating bitter disputes between Republicans and Democrats.

Voters were supposed to use a pointed instrument to knock out the small rectangles alongside their choice of candidate.

Those counting the votes are having to decide whether or not to count ballots with "dimpled" or "pregnant" chads - ballots whose chads have been marked but managed to cling on by one or more of the cardboard slivers connecting it to the card.

Republican complaints

The Republicans have argued that manual recounts are unconstitutional and opposed them in court tooth and nail.

Increasing the pressure on the electoral official, Republican spokesmen have alleged a series of irregularities in the manual hand count.

We try to get in the mind of the voter and figure out what might have been their intent when they looked at the ballot

Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor David Leahy
A Democrat official is alleged to have eaten some chad. Ballots for Mr Bush have, according to Republican observers, been placed on piles for Mr Gore. Ballots have been dropped on the floor and tampered with by fingernails and jewellery.

One option for the Republicans is simply to step up their objections to individual ballot papers in an attempt to delay the count beyond the deadline.

Chad or no chad

Despite a request from the Democrats, the Florida Supreme Court did not issue a directive on the counting of contested ballots and has left it up to the county boards to establish their own standards.

Ballot counting
Is it or isn't it? Florida counter scrutinises ballot
The court did quote a Illinois Supreme Court opinion that "voters should not be disenfranchised where their intent may be ascertained with reasonable certainty, simply because the chad they punched did not completely dislodge from the ballot."

In Miami-Dade, before the recount was cancelled, the board was going through more than 10,000 ballots that were culled as "undervotes" reflecting no choice for president.

This prompted an angry demonstration just outside the counting area from Bush supporters - adding to the pressure on the counters.

Different standards

As it went through each questionable ballot, the board was inclined to accept even a ballot with a chad that had all four corners still attached if there was "a slit" in it through which the counters can see light, indicating the voter was trying to perforate the chad.

The board was also accepting ballots with only an indentation in the presidential column if the chads were also dimpled and not detached or slit.

Palm Beach is taking a broadly similar approach on indentations but is stricter on slits.

In Broward County, the board was expected to begin work on 1,800 ballots that area dimpled or only perforated in one corner. But it is not clear what standard they will apply yet.

No Thanksgiving

All this means that the counters are not going to get any time off for Thanksgiving, as important a national holiday in the US as Christmas.

The deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court for the completed hand counts is either 1700 (2200 GMT) on Sunday 26 November if the office for the certification of votes is open, or 0900 (1400 GMT) on 27 November.

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See also:

18 Nov 00 | Americas
US poll rancour intensifies
21 Nov 00 | Americas
Gore backers query fight
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