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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 20:07 GMT
Florida seeks answers over vote chaos
Palm Beach County vote recount
Election caused much soul-searching about US democracy
By Malcolm Brabant in Miami

Florida is in the spotlight again, as officials meet to try to prevent any recurrence of the state's chaotic vote-counting in the US presidential election.

A task force established by Florida's Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of the president-elect, is studying recommendations on new methods of voting.

We're America, the crucible of democracy in the free world, I believe, and we need to make sure that our election process is beyond reproach

Florida Senator Darryl Jones

And the US Commission on Civil Rights will hold a two-day inquiry in Florida's capital Tallahassee to investigate allegations by black Americans that they were the victims of an orchestrated campaign to disenfranchise them.

A recent carnival held in Miami highlighted how for many people the electoral process had become the object of derision.

Performers dressed in wigs and judges' gowns mocked the US Supreme Court for helping George W Bush become president.

Other participants parodied Florida's butterfly ballots and antiquated voting machines, which sparked chaos with their dimpled, hanging and pregnant chads.

Integrity of system

State Senator Darryl Jones, a Democrat from Miami and a member of the task force that will decide on new voting methods, says the most important issue is the integrity of the election process.

Republican observer at Broward County manual recount
Many Floridians claimed they were disenfranchised

"We're America, the crucible of democracy in the free world, I believe, and we need to make sure that our election process is beyond reproach," he says.

"I want to see a process where, first of all, we encourage people to go and vote, and we make sure that they are registered in the easiest, simplest way possible.

"Then we have to assure the public that their vote is going to be counted."

Like his fellow African-Americans, Senator Jones believes that Mr Bush stole the election.

He wants the Florida task force to expand its inquiry to investigate allegations that tens of thousands of blacks were disenfranchised by an orchestrated Republican campaign.

It is a line constantly repeated by leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

But it irritates Sidney Charles, vice-president of the Miami Dade Republican Party, who is also black.

Mending fences

"If you look at Vice-President Al Gore, it was a great gesture that he conceded with grace, and I think Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and all the rest of the concerned black leaders should do the same," says Mr Charles.

President-elect George W Bush on Texas ranch
The president-elect still has a healing task to perform

"The election is over, it's time to mend all the differences that we have. This president's going to be president for all people, including all African-Americans."

The Florida task force is certain to ensure that Mr Bush is the last president chosen by punch-card ballots.

This 1950's technology has a high error rate and was responsible for most of Florida's embarrassment.

There were a number of votes that simply could not be counted.

David Leahy, election supervisor of Miami Dade County, said his county was going to investigate whether there was a better system for voters.

He said if there was, he was sure the county would buy one.

Media scrutiny

For the next few weeks, thousands of disputed ballots will be examined and recounted by newspapers and other organisations that want to determine which candidate really won Florida.

US Supreme Court, Washington
The US Supreme Court had an historic - and controversial - role

The outcome could further undermine a president whose legitimacy is questioned by millions of Americans.

The Miami Herald has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of doing a recount.

"I don't know whether it's going to be embarrassing or not embarrassing," says the executive editor of the paper, Marty Baron.

"It may actually strengthen him [Bush]. I have no idea what the result is going to be. The fact is that we have a president. This is not going to change the result, it's a matter of simply informing the public."

The recounts are not expected to be completed before the inauguration, so Mr Bush may be spared some embarrassment on his big day.

Challenge for Bush

This week's hearings, though, are a taste of things to come for Mr Bush, as some Democrats try to prove that the wrong man is in the White House.

The former Texas governor faces a major struggle to prove that he is a president for all the people.

And no matter how well he does, the manner of his victory means that for millions of Americans, his best will never be good enough.

As far as many Democrats are concerned, he owes his current position to a chad.

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See also:

16 Dec 00 | Americas
Pressure mounts for electoral reform
15 Dec 00 | Americas
Bush's African-American challenge
14 Dec 00 | Americas
The long road to the White House
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