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Report: Bush would win recount of disputed ballots

      CNN Interactive, May 11, 2001

Web posted at: 9:18 AM EDT (1318 GMT)


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush would have won a hand recount of all disputed ballots in Florida's presidential election using the two most common standards for judging votes, according to a USA Today analysis published Friday.

The newspaper said the study of 171,908 ballots also found that errors by Democratic voters probably cost former Vice President Al Gore as many as 25,000 votes, enough to have decisively won Florida and the 2000 election.

The findings were the result of a study of the state's disputed ballots by USA Today, The Miami Herald, Knight Ridder newspapers and six other Florida newspapers.

The study found that Gore might have won a narrow victory if lenient standards that counted every mark on a ballot had been used, the newspaper said. But Gore could not have won without a hand count of overvote ballots, which he did not request, the report said.

Bush won the state's crucial 25 Electoral College votes only after a ferocious court battle with Gore that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The divided high court halted hand recounts that Gore had hoped would produce enough votes to overturn Bush's 537-vote margin of victory.

The study analyzed 60,647 undervotes -- ballots that registered no vote in vote counting machines. It also examined 111,261 overvotes -- ballots marked with more than one presidential choice. Under Florida law, overvotes are disqualified.

USA Today said the study found that Democratic voters made far more overvotes than Republican voters.

"Gore would likely have won if all overvote ballots had been properly marked," said Anthony Salvanto, a political scientist at the University of California-Irvine who assisted the news organizations on the study.

He said people who cast overvotes were clearly confused by the presidential portion of the Florida ballot and had few problems casting votes in other races. The paper said voters were confused by a long list of minority party presidential candidates on the ballot.

USA Today said only 6 percent of those who overvoted in the presidential race made the same mistake in the Senate race, which was next on the ballot.

He concluded that the leading causes of overvotes in Florida were ballot design and ballot wording.

USA Today said Florida's controversial "butterfly" ballot was a key problem for many voters. The ballot put candidates' names on facing pages with punch holes in the middle. The alignment confused some voters, who punched holes for candidates they did not intend to choose.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's younger brother, signed a sweeping election reform law Wednesday that ended the use of butterfly ballots and punch-card machines in the state.

The governor signed the reform measure in Palm Beach County, where Gore supporters believe the butterfly ballot cost their candidate the presidency.