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Ballot recount supports Bush win

If the U.S. Supreme Court had not stopped the county-by-county recounts of votes during the presidential election stalemate last year, George W. Bush still would have won Florida.

That's an essential finding in an unprecedented review by the St. Petersburg Times and other news organizations of 175,010 Florida ballots tossed out during last year's disputed election.

While hard feelings linger about Bush's whisker-thin victory, we can now answer some questions about what happened during those 36 historic days that decided the presidency:

Bush would have won by 493 votes if the statewide recount underway Dec. 9 had been completed.

Gore had the votes to win Florida but was thwarted by state elections law and his own legal strategy. He didn't press for a count of ballots rejected as having too many votes on them. The media review found that there were actually enough legitimate votes among those "overvotes" to give Gore the presidency.

Badly designed ballots, such as the now notorious "butterfly" in Palm Beach County, cost thousands of Floridians their votes.

On about 66,000 ballots, in areas where voters complained about being confused, voters cast votes for two candidates. Who did they mean to choose? It's impossible to say. But consider: about 40,000 of the double votes included a mark for Gore; about 15,000 included a mark for Bush.

The St. Petersburg Times review included a computer analysis of five other recount scenarios using a statewide standard for counting votes. Bush wins every time a strict standard for counting votes is employed; Gore wins whenever overvotes also are included.

The Legislature has ordered counties to buy new voting machines, and the state's election laws and rules for hand recounts have been changed. Had the new rules been in place last year, Gore would have won Florida.