Monday, November 27, 2000

Portman pulls all-nighter observing recount in Fla.

Hand counts 'not pretty to behold'

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It took an all-night session of dimpled ballots and hanging chads to convince U.S. Rep. Rob Portman that hand-counting punch cards is no way to pick a president.

        “I wish people back in my district could have seen what I saw,” the Cincinnati Republican said Sunday night in a telephone interview from West Palm Beach, Fla.

        He had spent the night as an official observer for George W. Bush's campaign, watching the Palm Beach County hand recount.

        “These manual recounts are not a pretty thing to behold,” said Mr. Portman, one of a handful of GOP congressmen called in by the Bush-Cheney campaign to act as official observers.

        Mr. Portman was in North Carolina Saturday with his wife, Jane, visiting her parents when the call came from the Bush-Cheney campaign asking him to go to Florida.

        Mr. Portman arrived at the Palm Beach County's emergency operations center about 11 p.m. Saturday and began an all-night shift of watching Democratic elections board members examining ballots.

        He and U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., worked until about 6 a.m. Sunday before taking a break.

        As it turned out, the Palm Beach hand recount on which the campaign of Al Gore had pinned its hopes of overtaking Mr. Bush in the Florida balloting was not counted in the official results certified Sunday night by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

        Palm Beach shut down its hand count at 4:19 p.m. Sunday after Ms. Harris denied the board an extension of the 5 p.m. deadline. But Palm Beach County election officials went on counting the remaining 800 to 1,000 ballot cards after the 5 p.m. deadline and Mr. Portman was there Sunday night to watch.

        Whatever the result of the Palm Beach hand-count, Mr. Portman said, it would not change the fact that Mr. Bush had won the Florida count by the slimmest of margins.

        “In the end, Palm Beach County didn't make much of a difference,” Mr. Portman said, noting that after 94 percent of the Palm Beach County votes were counted, Mr. Gore had a net gain of 175 votes.

        About 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Ms. Harris certified Mr. Bush as the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes by a margin of 537 votes out of 5.8 million cast.

        While Mr. Portman was critical of the hand-counting process, he praised the Democrats on the elections board in Palm Beach County.

        “These are good folks here who have done their best,” Mr. Portman said. “They have been placed in an impossible position, where all sorts of subjective judgments were made.”

        Tim Burke, co-chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said that a lawsuit challenging the certification “is to be expected.

        “I know the Republicans will scream and people want a quick end to this, but the Gore-Lieberman campaign has every right to test the decisions made in this election in court,” Mr. Burke said.

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