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The Daily Tar Heel

News Agencies Analyze Florida's Uncounted Ballots

USA TODAY reported Monday that its joint study with Knight Ridder found that Gore would have received a maximum of just 49 additional votes in Miami-Dade County -- one of the counties in the center of the election controversy.

The National Opinion Research Center, an organization affiliated with the University of Chicago, was hired by some of America's largest news organizations to create a record of the estimated 180,000 uncounted Florida ballots.

NORC spokeswoman Julie Antelman said the ongoing project will classify and describe the uncounted ballots on coding forms, which will be merged into a large database for analysis. But the answers aren't cheap -- Antelman said the project will cost about $500,000.

News organizations sponsoring the study include CNN, The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The St. Petersburg Times, as well as seven other Florida papers represented through larger companies.

"Our goal is to inspect and classify the (Florida) ballots, not to challenge the certification of results," said Jack Stokes, AP spokesman.

Bill Harms, senior news editor of the University of Chicago's news office, said the purpose of the study is simply to describe and categorize the marks on the ballots. "This is not a recount," he said.

The project also has important research ramifications that will indicate the reliability of different voting systems, Antelman said. The process of ballot classification and description involves three independent analysts coming to a decision about what they see on a particular ballot, she said.

Antelman said the results will not be released until the project is completed sometime in April.

But some political science professors say the project will not have as large an impact on the public as the sponsoring news agencies might think.

Jeffrey Obler, a UNC professor of political science, said the project might have had a larger impact on voters if it was undertaken before Bush settled into office. "The controversy over (Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich) right now has also taken away from the dynamic of the disputed Florida ballots."

David Gergen, Harvard University political science professor, said voting methods in places like Florida will be subject to intense scrutiny until there is a more accurate system.

He said the project will satisfy some supporters of the candidate who receives the most votes but will leave the other side disputing the accuracy of the project. "I suppose it is good, though, for people who are curious about what really happened," Gergen said. "But I doubt it will resolve anything."

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