WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) â€” Palm Beach County election officials awarded three dozen additional votes to Al Gore following a mechanical recount and then decided that all 425,000 votes cast last week should be counted by hand.
George W. Bush retained his lead in Florida after Saturday's machine recount showed Gore adding 36 votes and Bush losing three. A hand count of four selected precincts turned up enough errors in the election night vote to prompt the Democratic majority on the county election commission to order the hand recount in all 531 precincts.
The county is a Democratic stronghold and the decision to order a recount was made over strenuous Republican objections with prospects for an appeal. Palm Beach County could be key in deciding whether Gore or Bush captures Florida's 25 electoral votes and becomes the next president.
``This clearly would affect the national vote,'' said Carol Roberts, a county commissioner and a member of the canvassing commission. The panel's vote was 2-1, with the two Democrats on the board voting for the hand recount. The third member, County Judge Charles Burton, has not specified any party affiliation.
A lawyer for the Republican Party, Mark Wallace, objected to a further manual recount. ``It has been pandemonium today,'' he said. ``We vigorously lodge our protest and plead with you not to put the county through that.''
Burton wanted an advisory opinion from the secretary of state before proceeding with a hand count. After the vote, Burton said: ``I would like to be more fully informed before this board makes such a serious decision that affects the whole country.''
Burton later told reporters he would seek to block the board's action. The board plans to meet again Monday to discuss the next move.
Republicans still hope to block a hand recount. They asked a federal judge on Saturday to prevent hand counting, but the judge set a hearing for Monday to consider the case.
On Sunday morning, Volusia County began a full hand recount of its 184,018 ballots, with employees working 14-hour days for three days.
Further complicating the picture, election officials in Polk County said that a rescan of 92 of 163 precincts resulted in a gain of 104 votes for Bush and seven for Gore. These are votes that had not been recorded in the previous count and recount of ballots.
Election authorities stopped short of making the figures official pending a meeting on Monday to certify the totals and report those to the state.
Palm Beach County has been at the center of the struggle over the presidential election. Some voters complained that its so-called ``butterfly'' ballot was so confusing it caused them to mistakenly cast votes for Pat Buchanan instead of Gore.
The hand recount, however, was unlikely to affect votes mistakenly cast for Buchanan because voters' intentions cannot be determined in such a count. A state judge issued an injunction Thursday in response to lawsuits filed by voters claiming confusion over the ballot design.
In the hand recount, 80 ballots were tossed out because voters had punched holes for both Gore and Buchanan. The hand recount involved four precincts â€” one in Palm Beach Gardens, two in Boca Raton and one in Delray Beach.
About 30,000 ballots have been rejected in Palm Beach County overall because they had two or more holes punched for president â€” or computers didn't detect any holes at all. Ballots with two votes also are rejected in hand counts.
The county figures released Sunday further cut Bush's lead over Gore in Florida. An unofficial Associated Press canvass of the presidential vote in Florida showed Bush now has a 288-vote lead.
On Friday, Secretary of State Katherine Harris said Bush had 2,910,074 votes to Gore's 2,909,114, a difference of 960, with one county still to be recounted â€” Palm Beach County where the AP showed a big gain for Gore.
The totals from the AP canvass were Bush 2,910,195, Gore 2,909,907. Those numbers reflect the latest figures from Palm Beach County.
The state has been unable to include updated Palm Beach County figures in its tally because a state judge issued an injunction Thursday in response to lawsuits filed by voters claiming confusion over the ballot design.
Palm Beach County officials said their exhaustive manual recount found numerous differences from the machine count. Roberts said the errors point to potentially 1,900 errors county wide â€” more than the existing statewide margin between Bush and Gore.
The new Palm Beach machine tabulation, the third in this populous Democratic-leaning county, gave Gore 269,732, or an add of 36 votes, and Bush 152,951, or minus three, in the county.