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Last of Fla. Ballots Sent on Road

December 1, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ The last of a million south Florida ballots summoned by a state judge and packed into 82 shoebox-sized boxes began a 468-mile journey before dawn Friday for delivery to a courthouse vault in Tallahassee.

Two white rental vans _ one full of ballots, the other empty and driving behind in case of an emergency _ started their engines and left downtown Miami at about 6 a.m. The trucks were the center of a convoy of police, cars holding observers from the Republican and Democratic parties and reporters.

Under the watchful eye of Miami-Dade County elections supervisor David Leahy, three movers and five police officers carted the ballots from a storage room to the waiting trucks shortly after 5 a.m.

``We’re just moving things to the next phase,″ Leahy said. ``We will see what happens in court tomorrow.″

But even with their daylong journey to the state capital, still unclear is whether the ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties will have any bearing on who will be the nation’s next president.

While Al Gore and George W. Bush have their main fights in the state and U.S. Supreme courts, on the undercard is a hearing Saturday on whether 1.1 million ballots in heavily Democratic south Florida were reviewed properly.

``This process is about getting an accurate count,″ said Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., in Miami to watch poll workers prepare local ballots for delivery. ``The American people want to have this lingering doubt put to rest.″

Certified vote totals from the Nov. 7 election give Bush a 537-vote edge over Gore for Florida’s 25 electoral votes and, with them, the presidency. Gore and Democratic backers have several challenges pending with the hope of overcoming the deficit.

A yellow Ryder truck _ with ``Rent Me″ etched across the top of its windshield _ delivered more than 462,000 Palm Beach County ballots to Tallahassee on Thursday in the latest bizarre scene from the no-end-in-sight election.

After the truck’s slow start in West Palm Beach’s rush hour, television station helicopters gave live coverage of the cross-state trip. And just as the O.J. Simpson low-speed chase did six years ago in California, the jaunt chased viewers from their homes to ramps and overpasses along the 450-mile route for an in-the-flesh glimpse at history.

And even Simpson, now a Florida resident, tuned in. He gave the show a thumbs-down.

``Boring,″ he said.

Friday brings a similar trip.

Another 654,000 ballots _ these from Miami-Dade _ were prepared Thursday for shipment to a Leon County Courthouse storage vault.

All day, workers packed the ballots into shoebox-sized brown cardboard boxes, which were then packed into bigger boxes and sealed with packing tape and red tape marked ``Evidence.″

Republican and Democratic observers watched the process with little complaint, a far cry from earlier in the week when both sides clashed over the handling of ballots as undervotes _ those without any obvious vote for president _ were separated from the other ballots.

``This is boring,″ Kennedy said. ``It’s tedious but there is nothing unseemly going on.″

Saturday in Tallahassee, Judge N. Sanders Sauls has scheduled a hearing on whether the ballots’ dimples, chads and punchholes should be looked at again. He wanted the ballots nearby in case another recount is necessary.

Gore is hoping that Sauls will order another recount to determine if any additional votes for him.

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