GOP Observers Say Fla. Recount Was Tense, Tedious

By Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - Republicans who served as observers during manual recounts in Florida have likened the event to a "slow motion coup."

In the counties where partial or full manual recounts were held, Republicans from all over the U.S. were asked to observe the canvassers who counted ballots and looked for fallen, hanging, dimpled or pregnant chad in an attempt to determine the intent of individual voters. Partisan observers had the job of objecting if they saw anything go by that was inappropriate.

According to GOP observers, the atmosphere in those counting rooms was tense.

According to Shawn McBurney, who spent eight days observing recounts in Palm Beach County, the mostly Democratic officials who conducted the recount would become "downright nasty" if challenged.

At one point during the counting, McBurney said, election officials recorded 18 votes, awarding 17 of them to Vice President Al Gore, that didn't appear to be in the stack of ballots being counted. After McBurney refused to sign the certification sheet, the actual 18 votes were found upstairs. Final tally: one for Gore, none for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and 17 "no votes."

"The man in charge of the counting room threw them down on the table and looked at me and said, 'Well, here they are, you can call off CNN now.' I am still completely shocked that they weren't all that interested in finding those votes," said McBurney. "Even if they weren't going to manipulate the votes, how could the county board not care if votes got lost?"

McBurney's comments were echoed by other vote observers, who recalled how vote counters would place ballots in envelopes and refuse to allow observers to open them; would have observers who lodged too many challenges removed; would bend ballots into a "U" or fan themselves with them.

"Every time a pile of ballots got moved, there'd be loose chad lying underneath them," said Brian Wilkes, who observed the recount in Broward and also spent time in Miami-Dade. "We'd collect the chad afterwards, but there's no telling how many ballots went from dimpled to punched in that week."

Many observers complained that ballot counters would rush through the process, not allowing observers enough time to review individual votes.

Almost universally, observers say, there were differing standards for which "dimpled" ballots would be counted, with counters throwing out Bush dimples but counting Gore dimples. "All dimpled chad are not created equal, apparently," said one observer.

Roger Morse, a Republican who was part of the protest that erupted in Miami-Dade County when the canvassing board decided to move the recount to the 19th floor of the county building, away from television cameras, is angered by accusations that Republicans orchestrated the protest to pressure the canvassing board into stopping the recounts.

"No one has ever been able to come up with a single report of violence [resulting from protests]," said Morse. "That was a spontaneous protest arising from days and days of getting screwed by the canvassing boards."

In Miami-Dade, said Morse, "Republican observers were getting shut down by the canvassing board and we wanted the press to watch the recount. . . . They were trying to cast votes, not count them."

The days were long - 12 hours or more, in most cases - and nights were often spent filling out affidavits for attorneys arguing in courts across the state. Still, all the observers say they'd do it again, and express a special camaraderie with those who camped out in Florida for the recounts.

Said McBurney, "It was extremely monotonous, but it was worth every minute. There are people who were shipped overseas to die for the right to vote; I figured I could go to Florida for a few days."