TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The ongoing recount of presidential balloting in Florida was helping Al Gore substantially trim George W. Bush's lead. Election officials, meanwhile, said the results wouldn't be certified for more than a week.
With 38 of the state's 67 counties completing their recounts by midday Thursday, Gore had trimmed the Texas governor's lead to 830 votes out of nearly 6 million cast, according to an unofficial tally by The Associated Press. That was less than half the original margin.
Even with the tightening gap, Gore campaign manager William Daley on Thursday said courts may find irregularities in the Florida results "an injustice unparalleled in our history."
Palm Beach voter Kenneth Horowitz, owner of the Miami Fusion soccer team and a registered independent, filed a lawsuit along with two others Thursday, saying poll workers told voters they only had five minutes to cast their ballots, and anyone who took longer would have their ballot tossed out.
"People should have the opportunity to know that when they vote it was definitively the way they expected to vote," said Horowitz. "The process was absolutely flawed."
Attorney General Janet Reno, a Florida native and former Miami prosecutor, pledged to review any complaint brought to her in the Florida ballot count, but said so far she has no reason to "jump in."
Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan said that "ineptitude" in ballot design may have caused many south Florida voters to vote for him inadvertently when they meant to vote for Gore. He suggested that Gore actually might have won Florida on the basis of the challenged votes.
"My guess is, I probably got some votes down there that really did not belong to me and I do not feel well about that," he told NBC's "Today" show. "I don't want to take any votes that do not belong to me."
State elections officials said the recount should be completed Thursday, but officials must wait until at least Nov. 17 to certify the results. That's the deadline for the approximately 2,000 ballots cast by Floridians living overseas -- mostly military personnel and their families -- to arrive in the state. The ballots must be postmarked by Election Day.
The recount was triggered by state law because Bush led Gore by less than one-half of 1 percent. State officials expected to finish by the end of the day Thursday.
The world was watching Florida because its 25 electoral votes will decide the winner of the presidential cliffhanger.
Allegations of voting improprieties surfaced late Tuesday and throughout Wednesday, ranging from missing and confusing ballots to problems with tabulations and voter intimidation.
"If there are concerns, let the process work," said Gov. Jeb Bush, the younger brother of the Republican nominee. "But don't overexaggerate things."
Throughout the state, Democrats and some voters complained of irregularities in the election, while Daley held out the possibility of lawsuits over the results.
"I assume the courts will take a serious look at what may be an injustice unparalleled in our history," he told CBS's "The Early Show."
In Palm Beach and Osceola counties, Democratic Party lawyers and voters said ballots were confusing because of their configuration. Officials in Palm Beach announced 19,120 ballots in the presidential race were tossed out before they were counted because more than one candidate was picked. Only 3,783 voters made that mistake on the U.S Senate portion of the ballot.
Democratic Party officials and hundreds of voters complained that, in the Palm Beach ballots, voters punched holes in the middle of the ballot, while candidates were alternately listed to the left and then the right.
"It was virtually impossible to know who you voted for," said Mark Hirsch, a 30-year-old business executive who voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.
Some Gore supporters in Palm Beach County said they feared they mistakenly voted for Buchanan. Gore carried the county by more than 110,000 votes, but the 3,407 votes for Buchanan were by far the most of any Florida county, and almost 20 percent of his total vote in the state.
Republicans noted that the ballot was approved by Democrat Theresa LePore, the county supervisor of elections.
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, dispatched by Bush to oversee the GOP monitoring team in Florida, angrily told "Today" that Palm Beach County voters' rights were upheld, even if their ballots were thrown out.
"They did have a chance to have their voices heard," he said. "And let me tell you something else about that ballot: That ballot was posted, as required by Florida law, in newspapers and public places all over the state of Florida. Not one complaint was received about that ballot, which, by the way, was approved by a Democrat who was elected. A Democratic election supervisor approved that ballot. And we haven't heard one gripe about that ballot until after the voting took place."
In Miami-Dade, Broward, and other counties, the Gore campaign complained about delays in the delivery of ballot boxes to counting places.
Democrats set up a toll-free number where Florida voters could report irregularities.
Jesse Jackson and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said they received complaints that blacks had difficulty voting. Jackson said some voters were told there were no more ballots, or that polls were closed.
Jeb Bush said he has seen no indications of fraud. But Mfume called for federal marshals to oversee the ballot recount and asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate.
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