By: Greg Mitchell

Newspapers Plan To Keep the Count Going

Stepping where five U.S. Supreme Court justices feared to tread,
The Miami Herald and several other major newspapers are
set to begin an ex post facto Florida recount. It’s poised to
begin next week, starting in Broward County on Monday at 10 a.m.,
and then in Miami-Dade and many of Florida’s other 65 counties.

Joining with the Herald in demanding to see all
“undervote” ballots (which did not clearly indicate a selection
for president) are The New York Times, New York Daily
News, Los Angeles Times, and Time magazine. On
Thursday, at a meeting in Washington, D.C., other major outlets,
including The Washington Post and CNN, discussed joining
the effort, which some expect to evolve into a broad consortium.

Bill Keller, managing editor of The New York Times, said
that the newspaper hopes to assemble a pool of wire, print, and
broadcast news organizations to look at the ballots. “The
rationale is that the ballots are there to be seen and it would
be interesting to take a look,” he told E&P on Thursday.
“We’re not interested in conducting our own election. We don’t
plan to call a winner in Florida.”

However, The Miami Herald, fearing a long delay in
hammering out procedural details with so many other heavy-

hitters, made plans to begin the count on its own next Monday
– with resources and additional staff (flown in from around
the country) provided by parent Knight Ridder. In fact,
Herald editors had been preparing for this moment since
the day before Thanksgiving, when the Miami-Dade canvassing board
voted to forego a handcount. There are more than 10,000 contested
votes in Miami-Dade alone.

The Herald decided to take it statewide after the Florida
Supreme Court ordered a count of all undervotes. “We think we
know how to do these ballots, so we’re going to do it,” said Mark
Seibel, the Herald’s assistant managing editor of local
and state news, who is overseeing the effort. “If others want to
use our tally, that’s okay, as long as they give us credit.”
Seibel said the Herald may take legal action against any
counties that “drag their feet” in making ballots available.

Unlike local canvassing boards, the Herald will not have
to wrangle over a standard for counting votes. A team of
reporters will simply examine each ballot and determine whether
they found in the presidential line: a dimple, a chad hanging by
one corner, or two corners, and so forth. The newspaper will
provide tallies for each separate category.

It expects to employ “an independent third party” to certify the
results, according to Executive Editor Martin Baron. “We will
describe in objective detail what the ballots show,” he said.
“People can come to their own conclusions.”

Al Cardenas, chairman of the state Republican Party, declined
comment on the GOP’s position, but said it might object to a
count, at least prior to the Jan. 20 inauguration of George W.
Bush. But Sanford Bohrer, an attorney for the Herald in
this effort, said the newspaper was not trying to “show up” Gov.
Bush. “These guys,” he said, referring to Herald editors,
“just want to find out who really got the most votes in Florida.”

Robert M. Steele, who teaches ethics at The Poynter Institute in
St. Petersburg, Fla., approves of the news organizations’ efforts
to count the ballots. “Newspapers should examine this with depth
and breadth because it’s part of journalism’s role of serving
democracy,” he said. “Newspapers can serve a valuable purpose in
being level-headed and responsible.”

But newspapers should explain their methodology in presenting the
results, he added, and not publish them in such as way as to
undermine Bush’s presidency. “The tone and degree to which they
use this information is important,” he said.

Greg Mitchell ( is the features editor for E&P.

Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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