A few dimples that could swing the vote for Gore

Florida Ballot
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The Independent US

The signs are posted along most of West Palm Beach's main arteries out of town. They show a cyclone diagram and the words "Evacuation Route". They are meant to guide citizens out of harm's way when a hurricane strikes. Yesterday, the weather was calm but the temptation to follow the signs was strong.

The signs are posted along most of West Palm Beach's main arteries out of town. They show a cyclone diagram and the words "Evacuation Route". They are meant to guide citizens out of harm's way when a hurricane strikes. Yesterday, the weather was calm but the temptation to follow the signs was strong.

The absolute worst place to be was the city's Emergency Operations Center, a low-slung building a little way out of downtown that was precisely built to survive hurricane force winds. It is now at the very heart of that rather more potent storm that has been enveloping all of Florida for more than a week, the struggle to determine who will be the next occupant of the White House.

In this building Palm Beach County has assembled teams of workers to undertake the enormous task of recounting by hand all 425,000 ballots that were cast in the country on 7 November. It could take them as long as a week. If they are allowed to get started, that is.

The circus arrived at the Center before dawn yesterday. Word had been given by the Palm Beach County three-member canvassing board late on Tuesday, that the manual recount would indeed go ahead and it was to start at 7am. At the appointed hour, everyone was in place. The counters were inside at the long tables, looking weary and anxious. And, just outside, the scrum of the world's media.

Everyone should have known better and stayed in bed. Nothing in the Sunshine State goes according to expectations any more. (As if Florida was ever quite normal.) So the board suspended the commencement of the counting because they had a few legal matters to get out of the way first.

A circuit court judge named Jorge Labarga was taking time off from a sheaf of other election-related lawsuits to consider one motion filed by Democrats on what exactly the counters should be looking for when they resume examining the ballots.

We also learnt that he was a Republican who had been on the party's local executive committee. He had also been president of the Cuba-America Republican Club.

This seemed ominous for the Democrats and Al Gore. Wrong again. By lunchtime, Judge Labarga had surprised everybody by loosening the standards for determining when a vote is actually a vote.

The chad - that little perforated rectangle meant to pop out when the voter pierces the ballot card beside the name of his or her preferred candidate - could count as a vote even if it is only "dimpled", he said. It need not necessarily be thrown out if all of its four corners are still attached.

When all the rulings coming down, from courts here, in the state capital of Tallahassee, and now also from Atlanta in Georgia, seemed only to further complicate matters, Judge Labarga's seemed surprisingly helpful.

Especially for Al Gore, who appeared to be regaining a little of the advantage. David Krathen, a lawyer for some of the citizens voting for a revote here, predicted that allowing the dimples would alone add 11,600 votes to the Gore column. If true, Mr Gore would be the next president.

But the flurry of renewed activity at the Emergency Center was premature. When it looked as if the way was clear for the manual count at last to begin, the canvassing board balked once more. Because then it learnt that the Secretary of State in Florida, Katherine Harris, had petitioned the State Supreme Court to stop the manual recount.

The exasperation of everyone was summed up by Judge Charles Burton, one of the board members. "On one hand, we're trying to move forward," he said. "On the other, it almost seems to be musical courts. We're going from the next courtroom to the next courtroom to the next courtroom."

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