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Voters shrug off analysis of Florida ballots

Sen. Joseph Lieberman may have summed up America's attitude about the 2000 presidential election Monday when he said a review of ballots from last year's cliffhanger was "fascinating," but didn't change anything.

A media-sponsored review of 175,000 uncounted ballots showed that recounts pursued by Al Gore in an effort to erase George W. Bush's paper-thin lead on Election Day wouldn't have put Gore in the lead.

However, in a full statewide recount of all uncounted ballots _ something never pursued by Gore _ the vice president might have picked up enough votes to narrowly surpass Bush.

But on a day when another New York jet crash raised fears of terrorism in an America drastically different since Sept. 11, Gore's running mate reaffirmed support for Bush.

"He's not only our president, but our commander in chief," Lieberman said while speaking to the National Jewish Democratic Council in Hollywood, Fla.

"The election of last year seems a world away," he said. "These recounts are fascinating. They don't change anything. For me, they validate what I said after this was all over last year, which was the results in Florida were effectively a tie."

Lieberman's move-on attitude matched that of many Americans, even in areas that staunchly supported the Democratic ticket, such as his home state of Connecticut.

"What's done is done," said Lorrie Branch of New Haven, Conn. "You can't fix it, but maybe it would have made a difference back then."

Bush supporter Sandy Myles of Kirtland, Ohio, echoed the sentiment. "I don't care about last year anymore. Of course, I might feel differently if I had voted differently, but we need to go forward."

An NBC-Wall St. Journal poll released Monday said nearly six in 10 Americans think Bush legitimately won the presidency, about the same as earlier this year.

But during a battle against terrorism, the partisan passion that surfaced in the 36 days after last year's Election Day has ebbed and Americans have rallied to support Bush.

While people were split down the middle this summer on who would get their vote if the election were held again, recent polls show they now would choose Bush by a 2-1 margin.

Marilyn Lenard, who organized rallies for Gore as president of the AFL-CIO in Florida during the recount, said the review confirmed what she believed.

"If all of their ballots had been counted, Gore would have been the winner," Lenard said. "But there's no way to undo what's been done. We have to wait until the next election."

For Lenard and many others, the ballot review has been more useful at pointing out flaws in balloting. Florida responded by overhauling its voting system.

"The reason I care is because I think we have a faulty election system," said Janet Doyle, in Columbus, Ohio.

The review showed myriad ways in which ballots can go uncounted, from voters' circling a candidate's name when they should fill in an oval, to not being able to punch through a hole in a ballot, to not understanding which names are presidential candidates.

That was the only benefit, said Doyle.

"I would have been very upset if they'd come back _ and I'm a Democrat _ and said, "Oh, Gore would have really won.' It doesn't make sense after the fact to do this," she said. "It was too late. At some point somebody put their foot down, which was the Supreme Court, and said, "No more,' and I will stand by that."

Lieberman also thought the biggest benefit of the ballot review was the light it shed on the process.

"The rest of the country and Congress ought to follow what the Florida government did and reform the voting system so when we have another close election like this, we're going to have a system which counts every vote," Lieberman said.

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