Published September 13, 2002
MIAMI – Janet Reno asked for a statewide, manual recount Friday of all votes in Florida's bungled gubernatorial primary as Miami-Dade County officials continued finding hundreds, if not thousands, of votes that went uncounted.
The former atttorney general said she asked the state Elections Canvassing Commission "to determine the expressed will of the voters" and to "ensure that the votes of all Democrats in the state who voted in the primary would be counted."
On Thursday, Tampa lawyer Bill McBride declared victory with an unofficial lead of about 8,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast in Tuesday's Democratic primary. But Reno refused to concede, saying there were discrepancies in at least 80 Miami-Dade precincts.
At stake between Reno and McBride is the right to run against Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.
McBride spokesman Alan Stonecipher said the McBride campaign has not decided whether to oppose a recount.
"We tried to stay on the high road and let all of the processes work," he said. "We'll just take it step by step. We don't know what it means."
The commission was scheduled to meet Friday to take up the question of ordering any recounts.
In Tuesday's balloting, some poll workers never showed up. Some polling places opened late, and some closed too early. Brand-new touchscreen voting machines malfunctioned. And optical scanners shredded ballots.
Then, over the past few days, Miami-Dade election officials began finding large numbers of uncounted votes that had apparently not been properly downloaded from the computerized voting machines by poll workers.
The debacle came after a $32 million overhaul of Florida's election system to prevent the kind of mess that happened during the 2000 White House race.
On Friday, Bush sent letters to election officials in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, demanding written explanations by Thursday on what went wrong and what they will do to make sure it doesn't happen again. He stopped short of asking for the election officials' removal.
"It would be unwise to remove you from office," he said. "Nonetheless, you must learn the lessons of Tuesday's failures and take all the steps required to guarantee that the November election will be a success."
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.
Miami-Dade was a Reno stronghold on primary day, with Reno winning about 70 percent of the county vote. So she could presumably pick up many more votes. The questioned precincts were heavily black and heavily elderly, where Reno did well.
Miami-Dade officials said they would not release details about the re-collection of votes until Tuesday, the state deadline for certifying the results. On Saturday, they planned to begin examining every machine in the county.
Late Friday, Reno asked officials in neighboring Broward County, where she also did well, 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."
In some precincts, the Reno campaign questioned what appeared to be shockingly low turnout. The 80 questioned precincts reported a total of 1,952 votes cast. But those precincts had 31,375 registered Democrats.
In one precinct, computers registered 900 percent more votes than there were eligible voters, while no votes at all were recorded in several precincts with thousands of voters.
On Thursday, Miami-Dade 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, though officials did not say how many went to Reno and how many went to McBride.
The situation is particularly frustrating for minority voters, some of whom say they were cheated in 2000 and again this year.
Maurice Cason voted for Reno at Miami's Shadowlawn Elementary School in the Little Haiti neighborhood and watched from her home as hundreds of others streamed to the polls. The precinct has 1,416 registered Democrats, yet county officials recorded no votes on Tuesday from the school.
"I always used to say my little vote didn't count," said the 76-year-old Cason, who is black. "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."