New Mexico may change hands as recount-fever shows signs of spreading

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The Independent US

Weary election officials in three Florida counties are going back to the ballots in search of a president, counting hundreds of thousands of votes by hand and machine.

Weary election officials in three Florida counties are going back to the ballots in search of a president, counting hundreds of thousands of votes by hand and machine.

It has become the election that wouldn't end.

In New Mexico, voting tallies released by the clerk in the state's largest county gave Republican George W. Bush a 17-vote edge over Democrat Al Gore, a sharp reversal of a previous unofficial Gore lead of 6,825 votes. However, as many as 370 additional special absentee ballots remained to be counted next week.

Republicans have threatened to challenge close Gore victories if he draws out challenges in Florida. But New Mexico has only five electoral votes and wouldn't be enough be itself.

Iowa, Wisconsin, and Oregon - which finally declared narrowly for Gore yesterday - are other states where the Republicans might legitimately call for re-counts.

And in Florida supporters of Bush and Gore kept up their fight, battling over whether votes should be recounted and how to do it.

Democrats favored a recount by hand, the method being used in Palm Beach and Volusia counties. Republicans asked for the mechanical recount in Palm Beach County and considered asking a court to block the hand counting.

An unofficial Associated Press canvass of the presidential vote in Florida showed Bush, a Republican, with a 327-vote lead over Democrat Gore. The eventual winner will take Florida's 25 electoral votes and become America's 43rd president. The U.S. system allots electoral votes to each state according to the number of congress members it has.

Palm Beach election officials planned to recount ballots in three precincts by hand Saturday. If there is a change in the count, they will then decide whether to do a recount by hand of the entire county.

Palm Beach County is a Democratic stronghold and has been at the center of the struggle over the election. Democrats complain that the county's ballot was so confusing that many Gore voters mistakenly voted for the conservative Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

Florida election officials said Friday the ballot did not violate state law, as several lawsuits contend.

In response to one lawsuit, a circuit judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the county's canvassing commission from certifying the final recount results until a hearing Tuesday.

Democrats said thousands of votes in Palm Beach County and elsewhere in Florida may not have been counted because the tiny piece of paper punched out for a candidate did not completely dislodge.

About 30,000 ballots were rejected in Palm Beach County alone because they had two or more holes punched for president - or computers didn't detect any holes at all.

Officials said 6,686 ballots were not counted in Broward County because the computer did not recognise any selection. Broward election officials voted 2-1 to do a hand-recount of three precincts Monday. If there is a change, they also will consider a full hand-recount.

Broward elections supervisor Jane Carroll cast the dissenting vote, saying, "We are setting a bad precedent." She questioned why Democrats had asked for a manual recount only in four heavily Democratic counties rather than the entire state.

Bush campaign spokesman Kenneth Lisaius said a hand count would be less accurate than counting by machine.

"Manual ballots can be compromised by human error," he said. "Gov. Bush won the election and now we're having another recount."

Volusia election workers planned to hand-recount all the county's 184,018 ballots Saturday. Workers there spent Friday sifting through the ballots for any write-in votes.

Democrats and Republicans were bringing in more than 100 people each from around the country to witness the Volusia process. The county was setting up 22 stations with two election workers and a Democratic and Republican witness at each.

In Polk County, officials planned to continue rescanning ballots in 60 of 163 precincts.

On Friday, Secretary of State Katherine Harris said Bush had 2,910,074 votes to Gore's 2,909,114, a difference of 960, with one county still to be recounted - Palm Beach County where the AP showed a big gain for Gore.

The totals from the AP canvass were Bush 2,910,198, Gore 2,909,871.

Florida's 67 counties have until Tuesday to turn in certified election counts to Harris' office.

In all, the Gore campaign is requesting that 1.78 million of the nearly 6 million Florida ballots cast be hand counted, and that the state delay the certification deadline until hand recounts are completed.

"We're looking for a quick resolution of a full, fair, accurate count," said Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway. "There's no specific time frame we've laid out."