TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ George W. Bush's lead over Al Gore in crucial Florida shrank to fewer than 400 votes by unofficial count Thursday with allegations of irregularities swirling and ballots from overseas residents still to be counted.
Recount results from 64 of the state's 67 counties gave Republican Bush a lead of 362 votes out of nearly 6 million cast, according to an unofficial tally by The Associated Press. The original ``final'' margin had been reported at 1,784.
The official count lagged behind, and Secretary of State Katherine Harris told an early evening news conference that it could be as late as next Tuesday _ a week after the election _ before the state has certified ballot results from all 67 counties. She also pointed out that it would take even longer _ at least until Nov. 17 _ to tabulate ballots cast by Floridians overseas and postmarked by Election Day.
One election board member, Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, testily defended the pace of the recount.
``Nobody ever said that democracy was simple or efficient,'' he said. ``But this is democracy in action.'' He said anyone wanting simplicity should look to the south, to Cuba, a reference to the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.
The Gore campaign has criticized the ballots in use in Palm Beach County as confusing, and has asked for a hand count of votes cast there and in three other counties.
Palm Beach County agreed to hand-count ballots in three precincts on Saturday.
There is also a legal challenge pending in state court with the support of Democrats who say a poor ballot design in Palm Beach County led some Gore supporters to inadvertently mark their ballots for Pat Buchanan.
``We expect legal challenges,'' said Clay Roberts of the Department of Elections, refusing to comment further.
Harris said that thus far 53 of Florida's 67 counties have forwarded recount materials to the state. She said the board count was behind the AP tally because the board is only reporting ``those that are unofficially certified.''
She said she had been glued to her television watching unofficial counts, and ``I hope they're going to be a lot more accurate than the other night.''
That was a reference to television networks that prematurely declared Gore the winner in Florida and then reversed course and said Bush had won the state _ and with it the White House.
In addition to the partial recount-by-hand in Palm Beach County, the board in Broward County arranged a meeting for Friday to discuss the Gore campaign's request for a manual recount there.