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Fla. Elections Board Snubs Reno

Janet Reno asked for a manual, statewide recount Friday of all votes in Florida's bungled gubernatorial primary as Miami-Dade County officials continued finding hundreds, if not thousands, of votes that went uncounted.

Soon after her request, the state's elections board said "no." Secretary of State Jim Smith said there would be no recounts, but any uncounted votes found could be submitted by counties with their updated totals next week.

Reno said she made the request of the state Elections Canvassing Commission "to determine the expressed will of the voters" and to "ensure that the votes of all Democrats in the state who voted in the primary would be counted."

At stake between Reno and McBride is the Democratic nomination and the right to challenge Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

McBride spokesman Alan Stonecipher said the McBride campaign has not yet decided whether to oppose the request.

"We tried to stay on the high road and let all of the processes work," he said. "We'll just take it step by step. We don't know what it means."

Meanwhile, he gave a victory speech, thanked supporters and even began challenging the Republican opponent to a series of debates. But McBride's bid for the Democratic nomination in the Florida gubernatorial race is far from over.

McBride, a Tampa lawyer, held an 8,196-vote lead over the former Attorney General after unofficial results were certified Thursday.

The certification came two days after a primary in which polling stations opened late and elections workers had a myriad of problems with new touchscreen voting machines that were brought in after the 2000 presidential election.

McBride's razor-thin margin of victory exceeded half a percentage point, the trigger for an automatic machine recount. More than 1.3 million votes were cast.

But problems have cropped up that could benefit Reno.

Miami-Dade officials, for one, reviewed the vote totals from four precincts Thursday and found an additional 1,818 votes that had not been counted. The county did not say how many of those votes were for Reno, who won Miami-Dade by more than a 3-1 margin in Tuesday's primary and fell only 1,445 votes short of triggering the recount.

Officials said the four precincts originally showed a total of 96 votes that had not been counted.

Miami-Dade officials also were re-examining the count Thursday in 10 precincts that showed turnout was less than 10 percent.

"We have experienced many questions about the electoral process. I think those questions must be answered," Reno said.

According to the state, McBride had 601,008 votes, or 44.5 percent, to Reno's 592,812 votes, or 43.9 percent. State Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami had 156,358 votes, or 11.6 percent. The deadline for official certifications of the results is next week.

McBride called Reno on the phone about an hour and a half before he went in front of television cameras to declare victory, telling her that he wanted to move forward with efforts to run against Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in the Nov. 5 general election.

During the victory speech, McBride urged unity and challenged Bush to a series of debates.

"Let's get a flatbed truck, go from city to city," McBride said. "You talk, then I'll talk ... but you can't do it unless you're willing to shoot straight with people."

Reno said she would not ask for a new election. But campaign attorney Alan Greer said Reno had not decided whether to seek a recount or go to court to challenge the results.

Greer and Reno campaign manager Mo Elleithee specifically questioned Miami-Dade County's ballot count in 81 precincts, saying thousands of votes could have been affected on Reno's home turf. They also said there could be problems in nearby Broward County.

Elleithee said the campaign has received hundreds of affidavits from voters alleging problems, and has e-mailed supporters statewide asking for more examples.

Reno promised to support McBride if he turns out to be the nominee, and Greer said the campaign is trying to avoid doing anything that would hurt the Democratic effort to oust Bush this fall.

But Robin Rorapaugh, McBride's campaign manager, said a court challenge by Reno could cost Democrats and be "horribly divisive" in the campaign against Bush.

Florida had enacted new laws and spent $32 million to reform its election system, eliminating paper chads altogether and hoping to avoid other problems that held up the 2000 presidential election for seven weeks.

Instead, hundreds of people complained they were turned away from the polls and many problems were reported in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, considered key by Reno's campaign.

The election woes reminded many of the presidential contest, when George W. Bush's 537-vote victory was delayed as Al Gore demanded recounts and Democrats complained of uncounted punchcard ballots.

Gov. Bush, the president's brother, blamed the latest problems on Democratic election chiefs.

"More resources, more training, more equipment, more state dollars, two years to do this, and it appears there were flaws in the implementation. Sixty-five counties got it right," Bush said.

But Elleithee pointed at Bush for the voting problems.

"We wouldn't be in this mess today if Jeb Bush had learned the lessons from 2000 about how to run an election," he said. "There were problems all over the state."

McBride, who once headed Florida's largest law firm, was a political unknown when the campaign began and he trailed Reno by more than 25 points two months ago. But he won endorsements from key Democratic leaders and seemed to benefit from GOP attack ads that helped boost his name recognition.