WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Al Gore might have won the presidency if Palm Beach County officials had counted every dimpled punch card ballot cast in the November election, The Palm Beach Post concluded.
The newspaper reported Saturday that Gore would have had a net gain of 784 votes over President Bush if the county's three-member canvassing board had counted every ballot that had a hanging chad, pinhole, ding or dimple.
That would have been enough to erase Bush's 537-vote margin in Florida, which won him the state's 25 electoral votes and the White House. Gore had gained 174 votes in Palm Beach County's official 10-day manual recount, but those were not counted in the statewide tally, because the county canvassing board missed the deadline by about two hours.
"It sounds like more science fiction to me," said Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who spoke for the Republicans about the Post's examination. "It doesn't matter how many times there's a recount, there seems to be a disparity in the analysis. The basis upon which you draw a conclusion is subject to incredible impeachment."
Gore lawyer Dennis Newman said the newspaper's examination showed why the Democrats wanted every discernible mark counted.
"We thought all along that those dents didn't get there on their own," Newman said. "We knew that Bush would pick up votes also. We just thought we'd pick up more."
Palm Beach County voters cast their ballot by placing a card in a machine and using a pin or stylus to punch out perforated squares.
Some voters said the ballot was confusing and that they accidentally voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan rather than Gore. Others said the machines were defective and they were unable to cleanly punch their ballots.
The Post examined the 9,150 ballots that county officials said had no vote for president — commonly called "undervotes" — and found that 5,736 had a mark for either Bush or Gore. There were 462,350 ballots cast in the county, which Gore carried by an almost two-to-one margin.
The newspaper found that Bush would have had a net gain of 14 votes if the canvassing board had counted the 62 undervotes that had a hanging chad. That's where a candidate's square is partially detached or is hanging from the ballot.
But it found that Gore would have had a net gain of 25 votes if the canvassing board had then also counted the 313 ballots where chads were not detached but where light could be seen through the perforations of a candidate's square or through a pinhole in the square. This still would not have been enough to overcome Bush.
Gore's victory would have come if the board had also counted the 5,361 ballots that had a dimpled chad, which means the chad had an indentation but no light could be seen.
Canvassing board Chairman Charles Burton pointed out that if dimpled chads were counted, the board would have had to reject ballots where voters made a clear punch for one candidate and made a dimple for another because that would have meant they voted for two candidates. It is unknown how many ballots that method would have disqualified.
Two groups are examining ballots in all 67 Florida counties.
The first group — The Miami Herald, its parent company Knight Ridder, and USA Today — had completed examining 65 counties as of Wednesday.
Last month, the Herald said a review of 10,644 uncounted ballots in Miami-Dade County showed Gore would not have gained enough votes to overtake Bush when combined with results from Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia counties. Gore would have gained no more than 49 votes in Miami-Dade, the Herald said.
The other group consists of The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, The Palm Beach Post, St. Petersburg Times, The Wall Street Journal and Tribune Publishing, which owns the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. As of Tuesday, it still had 20 counties remaining.
On the Net: Palm Beach Post: www.gopbi.com/partners/pbpost/