Overseas Ballots: Advantage Bush

German champion paraglider Ewa Wisnierska gestures at a press conference as she tells of how she survived when she was lifted higher than Mount Everest by a thunderstorm that killed a Chinese paraglider in eastern Australia, in Manilla, northern New South Wales, Australia, Friday, Feb. 16, 2007.
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In this presidential photo finish, overseas absentee ballots may well propel George W. Bush or Al Gore to victory in Florida, though Bush appears to have an edge in this battle of the ballots.

The official Florida recount tally shows Bush with a slender 321-vote lead over Gore, out of some six million ballots that were cast. The overseas absentee ballots could push either candidate ahead in the Florida popular vote, giving him the state's 25 electoral votes and the presidency.

Florida law allows absentee ballots from Americans living in foreign countries to be counted if they arrive within ten days of the election and are postmarked by Election Day. All are due at county election offices by midnight Friday. The ballots will be counted Saturday morning and added to the overall vote total.

The Bush forces appear to have the edge. Prior to the election, Florida Republicans mounted an aggressive drive to get absentee ballots for the GOP. And the Republicans have received the lion's share of overseas ballots in recent Florida elections. In 1996, for example, GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole corraled 54 percent of the overseas vote to Bill Clinton's 41 percent, even though Clinton carried the state.

Republicans are confident that many of the international votes will come from military personnel posted abroad, who traditionally vote for the GOP.

There is no precise way of determining how many overseas ballots were cast or how many may have already been counted, but most observers believe several thousand overseas votes remain to be counted.

A county-by-county analysis conducted by The New York Times showed that about 2,200 overseas ballots remain to be counted, with the largest number (567) coming from three counties that voted heavily for Bush. Three heavily Democratic counties that have been the focus of Gore efforts - Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade - have only 352 uncounted votes.

The newspaper said that if overseas ballots follow the voting patterns in the counties where they were received, Bush would get 54.8 percent to Gore's 42.9 percent.

Still, there is no way of knowing how the overseas ballots will break until they are counted, and the vice president's camp is hoping that Democratic Jewish voters living in Israel can give him the edge. There are more than 200,000 U.S. citizens living in Israel. About 10,000 of them are from Florida, and 90 percent them are Democrats, says Sheldon Shorer, the chairman of Democrats Abroad in Israel.

"The American living in Israel cares very much about the American-Israeli relationship and is very involved in politics and wants to have that voice heard," Shorer says.

Gore is viewed as more pro-Israeli than Bush and, of course, Gore's running mate, Joe Lieberman, is the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket.

No one knows how many of the 10,000 Floridians in Israel mailed in absentee ballots.

"In retrospect, we realize evey voice counts," says Shoshana Schreter, a resident of Tel Aviv who says she voted for Gore with a Florida absentee ballot. "I'm sure there are many people that wish they had submitted those absentee ballots."

Phil Kaplan, who is from Hollywood, Florida and also lives in Tel Aviv, is one. He says he would have voted for Gore but was "lazy" and didn't send in a ballot.

"I feel terrible," Kaplan says. "Not only for myself, but for him."

The U.S. Postal Service said it is hurrying military overseas ballots arriving in Florida through the delivery process, getting them to the 67 county election departments the same day they arrive in the country. Such a procedure cannot be done with civilian overseas absentee ballots because they arrive at numerous air mail centers throughout the country, not just in Florida.

"We understand the urgency of this situation and realize that the entire presidential election could rest on these ballots," said postal service spokeswoman Enola C. Rice

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