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Florida vote count delay reminiscent of 2000 debacle

us election obamaMIAMI: Presidential votes are still being counted in Florida, a protracted process that has evoked memories of the acrimonious 2000 election that was finally resolved by the US Supreme Court over a month later.


This year the Sunshine state did not play a pivotal role in the national race, as Barack Obama was re-elected Tuesday after winning enough electoral college votes in other states to pass the 270 threshold needed for victory.


Republican nominee Mitt Romney's campaign team on Thursday also appeared to concede that he had lost Florida in a statement quoted by the Miami Herald, but no official result has been announced two full days after the vote.


Florida was arguably the most coveted prize on election day, with 29 electoral college votes up for grabs -- more than any of the other states that  swing between Republican and Democratic control in the presidential poll.


In 2000 Democrat Al Gore, who won the US popular vote, lost the election to Republican George W. Bush, who triumphed under the electoral college system when a divided US Supreme Court stopped a ballot recount in Florida.


Republicans have control of both houses in Florida's state legislature and the governor's mansion, but a growing Hispanic and more liberal population are pushing the electorate toward Obama's Democrats.


Florida Deputy Elections Supervisor Christina White blamed the vote count delay on an unusually long ballot and a high voter turnout.


"It's not that there were any problems or glitches. It's about volume and paper left to be processed," said White.


As of Thursday, votes were still being counted in three of Florida's 67 counties -- including the cities of Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. Vote counting in the Miami area was completed on Thursday morning.


But at least two Florida vote experts saw the chaos as the result of a raw, bare-knuckled Republican attempt to suppress turnout.


"Election officials in Florida said the same thing in 2000 -- the turnout caught them by surprise," said Lance deHaven-Smith at Florida State University.


"But the truth is that turnout in presidential elections in Florida is usually between 70 and 75 percent of registered voters."


For him the chaos is because "an entrenched Republican political class is trying to fend off a rising tide of Democratic voting."


Republican state officials have been "intentionally under-supplying voting places and equipment" to create bottlenecks in traditionally Democratic strongholds, "thereby reducing Democratic voting and manipulating the election outcome," he said.


Charles Zelden, a history and law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, said the southern state's Republican legislature wanted to slow down voting for partisan purposes.


He pointed to a law signed last year by Governor Rick Scott reducing the number of early voting days from 14 to eight and eliminating early voting on the Sunday before election day.


Democrats tend do better in early voting, so limiting the number of people voting ahead of election day would likely have favored Romney.


"The blame," Zelden said, "lies with the fact we allow the partisans to run our elections."


Voting in the United States is "controlled by the states which are run by politicians with partisan objectives. Hence the problems," he added.


While projections have indicated that the Florida vote has been close since the start, the statement given by Romney's senior campaign adviser Brett Doster to the Herald, indicated that it had gone Obama's way.


"The numbers in Florida show this was winnable. We thought based on our polling and range of organization that we had done what we needed to win,"  Doster said.


"Obviously, we didn't, and for that I and every other operative in Florida has a sick feeling that we left something on the table."


Chris Cate, a spokesman for the state government, told AFP that the three counties where counting is still incomplete "are required to report their results to us by Saturday at noon."

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012