Bush team pins hopes on military

Absentee Ballot
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The Independent US

Whatever is decided about manual recounts in select Florida counties, the definitive result of the election may hinge less on these than on the absentee votes.

Whatever is decided about manual recounts in select Florida counties, the definitive result of the election may hinge less on these than on the absentee votes.

The precise number of such ballots - cast mostly by US service personnel and Americans living abroad - is not known. The best estimate for Florida is between 4,000 and 6,000. With the official count giving Mr Bush victory by just 300 votes, even a small margin could clinch the election.

All Florida absentee ballots must be in by midnight tomorrow - 10 days after the election. The expectation is that they will be counted - and the result declared - on Saturday.

So far, some 4,000 absentee ballots have been received by 65 of Florida's 67 counties, many of them in time to be included in each county's election-day tally. A further 7,000 were said to have been requested and not yet returned. But there is no direct correlation between the number of ballots requested and the number returned.

The Bush campaign is pinning its hopes on what it believes to be the conservative inclinations of the military. But Mr Gore's service in Vietnam could give him an edge. Mr Bush served in the Air National Guard in Texas.

There are also dual US-Israeli nationals, resident in Israel, who traditionally vote Democrat and could have been encouraged to vote in greater numbers this year by Al Gore's selection of Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Officials say US voter registration in Israel was up 15 per cent this year.

But even if the absentee ballots prove decisive, the election may not be over. The regulations say an absentee ballot must be postmarked election day, 7 November, at the latest - or failing that be dated by the voter on the ballot. But errors abroad and the late dispatch of some absentee ballots could complicate matters.

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