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Miami-Dade Finding Hundreds, Maybe Thousands, of Unreported Votes

Florida's bungled gubernatorial primary went into the weekend unsettled as Miami-Dade County officials continued finding hundreds, if not thousands, of votes that went uncounted -- perhaps enough to erase Bill McBride's lead over Janet Reno.

McBride, a political newcomer, declared victory Thursday with an unofficial lead of about 8,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast in Tuesday's balloting.

But Reno refused to concede, saying there were discrepancies in at least 80 Miami-Dade precincts.

The former attorney general needed to narrow the gap by about 1,600 votes to force an automatic statewide recount in the race for the Democratic nomination and the right to take on Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Over the past few days, Miami-Dade election officials have been finding large numbers of votes that had apparently not been properly downloaded from the computerized voting machines by poll workers.

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 to make sure the votes were properly recorded.

In some precincts, the Reno 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 delay is reminding many of the seven weeks that it took to straighten out Florida's last statewide election -- the 2000 White House race. The state spent millions on new technology to prevent a repeat of the debacle, only to see an embarrassing combination of human and mechanical errors this time.

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."

County officials have complained about a lack of training for poll workers on the new machines.

"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."