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Sen. Reid urges patience in presidential race

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Vice President Al Gore, their lawyers and Florida elections officials could learn a thing or two from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Be patient, civil and altruistic, and the electoral process will work out to the betterment of society.

Reid knows. He has walked both sides of the fence.



First, he lost his first Senate bid in a recount to Sen. Paul Laxalt in 1974.

But the race that comes to mind more readily occurred 24 years later when he bounced back to beat then-U.S. Rep. John Ensign, R-Nev.



“Much of what (the 2000 presidential candidates) are going through in Florida happened to us,” Reid said, describing two courteous U.S. Senate candidates under extreme duress from being in a state of limbo.

When all was said and done, the 1998 race turned into a legal battle that churned out three extensions in court in which Washoe District Judge Janet Berry granted requests for completion of the final recount and canvassing of the Senate vote. The race was officially declared in Reid’s favor six weeks later.

The original margin of victory announced for Reid the day after Election Day 1998 was 401 votes. An initial recount pushed the margin to 459, before ending with a slim differential of 428. Skewed margins on paper ballots and computer software glitches in Washoe County, which includes Reno, were blamed for the changing results.

“If we can go to this kind of trouble and effort for a senator’s race, then shouldn’t we at least do that for president?” he asked.

And now the legal wrangling and ballot recount certification in Nevada from two years ago may play a role in the outcome of this year’s presidential election.

The Washoe County clerk’s office dispatched copies of the race’s 134-page file -amounting to about $1,400 in costs – at the request of lawyers acting on behalf of the Florida Democratic party.

A Florida judge ruled Tuesday that state officials may enforce the 5 p.m. deadline for certifying votes in the fiercely contested presidential election, but Secretary of State Katherine Harris may accept updated tallies.

“I understand exactly what they’re after,” Washoe County Registrar of Voters Dan Burk said.

Burk criticized the layout of the butterfly ballot used in Palm Beach County, ground zero for a court battle involving voters who allege they mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Gore.

There, the problem lies with a ballot that places the candidates running for the same office on shifting sides.

“It’s easy to get confused about which hole you’re punching,” Burk said, adding, “it’s difficult to know voter intent.”

But not all butterfly ballots are created that way. For 13 years, Burk worked with the same type of ballot in Benton County, Ore., but election officials stacked the candidates instead.

So why are butterfly ballots used?

They’re faster at tallying votes and cheaper to use, Burk said, equating the ballot to the same reason election officials prefer computers versus hand-counts.

But the hand-counts should go on, Reid insisted.

“There’s a reason we use machines. They’re faster and cheaper, but not better,” he said. “Hand-counts are better.”

There are differences in the two races.

“We did have the same time constraints, but everybody was in favor of having an accurate vote,” Washoe County Assistant District Attorney Leslie Admirand said. She argued in court the extension pleas based on the liberal writing of Nevada law.

“You have to look at the integrity of the vote (before making the call),” Admirand said.

Plus, Reid said the atmosphere, though stressful, was much more congenial than Florida, with both candidates maintaining contact even through waves of legal wrangling.

Still, times were hard in 1998.

Ensign characterized the recount as “torture.”

“We try to forget 1998 as much as possible,” Burk said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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