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Reno Weighs Legal Election Action

Janet Reno contemplated legal action Wednesday as she trailed political novice Bill McBride in Florida's Democratic gubernatorial primary, an election marked by problems reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election.

Counting continued in Miami-Dade and Broward counties Wednesday evening, South Florida strongholds for Reno, who trailed by just more than 11,000 votes. Counts also continued in Orange and Union counties.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, McBride had 599,057 votes, or 44.6 percent, compared with Reno's 579,399 votes, or 43.7 percent. Miami Sen. Daryl Jones had 154,838 votes, or 11.5 percent.

Both campaigns said the election would not be decided until at least Thursday morning, when state Division of Elections employees planned to return to work. Counties had until noon Thursday to report unofficial results.

Reno was concerned that election problems prevented hundreds of voters from casting ballots Tuesday in Miami-Dade, where she dominated McBride at the polls. Several polling places opened late, others had computer problems that caused them to close for lengthy periods and some shut down early despite Gov. Jeb Bush's order that extended voting statewide for two hours.

"She's extremely upset about the disenfranchisement," said Reno spokeswoman Nicole Harburger. "People were not allowed their right to vote ... That's unacceptable to her."

The campaign was working with advocacy groups such as the NAACP, the Advancement Fund and local campaigns to collect affidavits from voters who could not cast ballots.

The former U.S. attorney general met with her lawyers and advisers at her Miami Lakes campaign headquarters Wednesday to discuss her options, including whether to demand a recount or sue to overturn the results. A recount would be automatic if the difference between McBride and Reno is less than half a percent of all votes cast.

"At this point I don't want to talk about it until I know what the circumstances are," Reno said of her options.

Her hopes rested on the final tallies from Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which have the most registered voters in the state.

Joe Geller, her campaign attorney, said Reno does not want to hurt the Democratic Party's goal of defeating Bush in November. Bush was unopposed in the Republican primary.

"Any discussion about what's going to happen puts defeating Jeb Bush as the No. 1 consideration," Geller said.

McBride, a Tampa attorney who once led the state's largest law firm, also had discussions Wednesday with several lawyers.

"We'll see what happens," McBride said. "I thought it was going to be close, but I thought it would have been settled by now. I just hope this gets straightened out."

Lawyer David Cardwell, who spoke with McBride, said he is watching the count and Reno's course of action.

"We're in the close monitoring stage," he said. He said he personally didn't think Bush had the legal authority to keep the polling places open past their scheduled closing times, even though McBride supported the governor's decision.

"It was the right thing to do," Cardwell said.

Jones, however, criticized Bush's decision. He said Bush should have allowed extended voting only at precincts where there had been problems.

"It creates a constitutional issue about the election because the polling places that open at 7 a.m. are open for 14 hours and the ones that open late at 11 a.m. are open for 10 hours. So you still don't have equal footing," he said.

Jones said critics who say he might have cost Reno the election by taking black and South Florida voters away from her "have no clue about democracy."

"Anyone who wants to run for office can run," he said.

McBride, who had last run for office at the University of Florida, where he lost an election in a recount, woke up at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday to walk with his wife, Alex Sink, and 50 Tampa fifth graders to a gathering of people waving U.S. flags.

On the way, he said to one of the children, "It was fun last night."

Even if he's ahead when counting ends, McBride may find himself in a similar position to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election.

Bush, the governor's brother, wasn't declared the winner until more than seven weeks after the election ended because Al Gore challenged his 537-vote victory. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually halted a recount ordered by the state Supreme Court, thus giving Bush the presidency.

Florida enacted new laws and spent $32 million to reform its election system over the past two years in an attempt to avoid confusion.

"I don't know exactly what the powers I have to do this, but I guarantee you that in November, the election will run much more smoothly than the supervisors of election allowed to occur (Tuesday)," Jeb Bush said Wednesday.