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Florida's Duval County won't start recounts till Sunday

JACKSONVILLE, Florida (CNN) -- The Duval County Canvassing Board met Saturday morning to set standards for its court-ordered hand recount of "undervote" ballots -- those cards that registered no vote for president when counted by machine. Those undervotes, however, are mixed in with thousands of other ballots, and the process of separating them out is expected to seriously delay Duval's recount.

Duval County Canvassing Board members
Duval County Canvassing Board members discuss ballot counting procedures  

County officials said that they will probably not be able to start the recount till Sunday, and thus are very unlikely to meet the Sunday afternoon tally deadline. Officials in the heavily Republican county said they were waiting the arrival of equipment that can separate some 5,000 undervote ballots from the county's total of 291,000.

Florida Supreme Court on Friday ordered all counties that have not already done so -- as many as 58 -- to conduct manual recounts of undervote ballots in the presidential election. Manual vote recounts conducted already in three counties have slimmed Republican George W. Bush's lead over Democrat Al Gore to 193 votes.

On Saturday, the Duval County board discussed counting procedures and heard Bush campaign attorney Reynold Hoover and Gore campaign attorney Ben Kuhne disagree sharply on which punch-card ballots should be considered legitimate.

At issue is the validity of ballots with "pregnant" or "hanging" chads -- pieces of paper that result when holes are not completely punched through. Kuhne, representing the Gore campaign, said they should be included as votes, while Hoover, representing the Bush campaign, disagreed.

"If there is an agreement on most standards, we'd certainly like to see that," said Duval County Canvassing Board Chairman John Stafford.

The Bush campaign is seeking in the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to halt the hand counts.

Duval County hopes to use the software and equipment that Miami-Dade County used to separate out some 9,000 undervotes from its total before sending the ballots up to Tallahassee last week.

An expert is expected to arrive Saturday in Duval County to install and demonstrate the software and equipment, after which, the county elections director said, it will take about 10 to 12 hours to sort through the votes.

Stafford said he estimates it will take two days of 12-hour shifts to complete the hand recount. That means that Duval County's results would not be available until at least late Monday.

The official counting, to be held in the Jacksonville City Hall annex, is set to begin Sunday at 8 a.m. EST. Tentative plans involve employing eight teams of three people each to count: one person from the Duval elections office, one Democratic observer and one Republican observer.

In its original machine count, Duval County identified 4,967 undervotes and about 22,000 ballots that contained two or more votes for president, known as "overvotes."

Already, some Democratic observers have objected to running all of the county's votes through a machine to sort them. They fear some of the ballots once counted as undervotes may be recognized by the computer program as overvotes because chad may have been dislodged.

Republicans are optimistic that the hand recount in Duval County will produce a net gain for George W. Bush. Democrats believe the roughly 5,000 votes in question will break evenly for Gore and Bush.

In Duval County's initial election night results, Bush won 58 percent of the vote, while Gore won 41 percent. However, after a machine recount, 200 new votes were identified and Gore gained 168 votes.

CNN Correspondent Kate Snow and CNN.com writer Amy Herstek contributed to this report.


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