TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) — The margin separating Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore grew ever closer Thursday in Florida, as a recount of Tuesday’s election cut the difference from the thousands to a few hundred.
Bush’s advantage over Gore was only 359 votes late Thursday afternoon, with 63 of 67 Florida counties reporting the results of their recount efforts, according to the Associated Press. The count was likely to conclude by early in the evening.
Top officials of Bush’s presidential campaign Thursday accused allies of Gore of politicizing the ongoing recount of election ballots in Florida, saying Gore’s people were not telling the whole story.
Bush campaign Chairman Donald Evans, appearing in Austin, Texas, the governor’s home base, said his counterpart in the Gore camp, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, left out important information when he told reporters earlier in the day that Gore’s organization would back efforts by some state residents seeking legal redress for alleged voting irregularities.
Evans and Bush strategist Karl Rove said Daley’s earlier claims that some 19,000 ballots were discarded because some residents of Palm Beach County cast votes for two presidential candidates — and that the confusing layout of the county’s ballot gained Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan thousands of votes intended for Gore — did not hold much water when compared to past election results.
Daley neglects to point out a similar number of ballots were invalidated in that county for the same reason in 1996, Evans said. Rove added that based on Florida election numbers analyzed by the Bush campaign, Reform Party registration increased 110 percent in Palm Beach county between 1996 and 2000.
Democrats are politicizing and distorting events, Evans said.
Earlier in the day, Daley appeared before television cameras to lay out a plan to address a series of allegations of what he said were missing and confusing ballots.
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Votes for Pat Buchanan by county in Florida
The possibility of legal action expanded as the state vote recount resumed today, with Democrats pressing the issue in Florida and Republicans threatening recounts in Iowa and Wisconsin — both of which Gore is estimated to have won narrowly. A recount in New Mexico is already under way and results should be reported on Friday.
Daley said Gore’s team in Florida would request a hand count of presidential ballots in four Florida counties: Vollusia, Broward, Dade and Palm Beach, where voters have complained that the county’s ballot design was confusing and netted Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan hundreds, perhaps thousands, of votes intended for Gore.
Daley also said he would be working with voters from Florida to support a legal action to demand some redress for the disenfranchisement of more than 20,000 voters in the state of Florida. The former Commerce Secretary repeated allegations voiced by a Florida Democratic congressman that slightly more than 19,000 ballots were disqualified in Palm Beach because baffled voters cast votes for two presidential candidates.
If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and should be the next president of the United States, Daley said.