Florida Refuses Reno's Recount Request

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Janet Reno asked for a statewide, manual recount Friday of all votes in Florida's botched gubernatorial primary, but the elections board promptly refused.

The request came as Miami-Dade County officials continued to find hundreds, if not thousands, of votes that went uncounted — perhaps enough to erase Bill McBride's lead in the Democratic race to take on Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Secretary of State Jim Smith said there would be no recounts, but any uncounted votes found could be submitted to state elections officials next week.

“Whatever those totals are, at that time, will, at that time, determine whoever the winner is,” Smith said.

Reno has said she didn't want to challenge the election results in court, and her attorney all but ruled out a lawsuit.

“I do not foresee a set of circumstances where we will be filing litigation,” campaign attorney Alan Greer said. “She does not want to freeze the Democratic Party.”

McBride, a political newcomer, declared victory Thursday with an unofficial lead of about 8,000 votes. But Reno, the former Clinton attorney general, refused to concede, saying there were discrepancies in at least 80 Miami-Dade County precincts and perhaps elsewhere.

Reno needed about 1,600 votes to force an automatic statewide recount in the race for the Democratic nomination and the right to take on Gov. Jeb Bush.

Using Reno's list of questionable precincts and factoring in the countywide voter turnout of 32.7 percent, up to 8,000 votes could have been missed, according to a computer analysis by The Associated Press.

Since Reno won about 70 percent of the county vote, she could presumably pick up many more votes than needed.

Miami-Dade officials said they would not release details about the recollection of votes from voting machines until Tuesday, the state deadline. They were examining machines from the whole county, including those where Reno workers questioned shockingly low turnout.

In one precinct, computers registered 900 percent more votes than there were eligible voters, while no votes were recorded in several precincts with thousands of voters.

On Thursday, Miami-Dade's elections chief David Leahy said workers examined four polling stations that originally showed a total of 96 votes. The review boosted the total to 1,914 votes, although officials didn't say who got the votes.

The delay is reminding many of the five weeks it took to straighten out the 2000 presidential election in Florida. The state and counties spent millions on new technology to prevent a repeat of the debacle with paper ballots, but the computers caused all new difficulties.

Maurice Cason voted for Reno at Miami's Shadowlawn Elementary School in the Little Haiti neighborhood and watched from her nearby home as hundreds of others streamed to the polls. The precinct has 1,416 registered Democrats, yet county officials recorded no votes from the school.

“I always used to say my little vote didn't count,” said Cason, 76, a black woman. “The last time in the presidential mess, I don't see where I counted then. This is the second time we've had this mess.”

County officials have complained about a lack of training for poll workers on the new machines. Dorothy Walton, precinct clerk in Miami's predominantly black Liberty City neighborhood, said she was only given three hours of instruction.

In her precinct, which has 1,406 registered Democrats, the machines initially recorded only 87 votes. Later Wednesday, election officials raised that total to 610 votes after checking the machines.

Walton said a promised technician never showed up to help poll workers with the machines.

“It wasn't enough knowledge of the machines,” said Walton, who has been working the precinct since 1973.

“We did everything we could in our power to properly train these poll workers,” said Gisela Salas, Miami-Dade County's assistant supervisor of elections. “We had three hours of training for our regular inspectors and four hours of training for our clerks and assistant clerks.”

The 80 precincts targeted by Reno reported a total of 1,952 votes cast. But those precincts had 31,375 registered Democrats.

If those precincts matched the county-wide turnout, they would have produced 10,260 votes, more than five times the number that were reported, according to an AP analysis.

In a recollection, officials insert an “activator” in the voting machines, downloading the results and uploading them to a computer in the central office. The recollection is expected to take much of the weekend.

In neighboring Broward County, which also went heavily for Reno, officials were auditing results from one precinct with more than 800 voters that showed 0 percent turnout. Reno asked officials in Broward to review as many as 200 precincts.

She said she would only concede after the review process had run its course.

“My whole purpose is to get the votes counted and to let the votes speak — not Janet Reno speak — but let the votes speak,” she said. “That's what the democratic process is all about.”

Also Friday, Bush sent letters to election supervisors in Broward and Miami-Dade, scolding them for the primary problems and demanding a written report on what went wrong and how the counties would prevent similar problems in November.