Democracy comes at a price, taxpayers in south Florida will soon be reminded, once the bill for sorting out the winner of the disputed presidential election comes due.
The total cost of an endless stream of ballot counts and recounts in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties could be months away yet, but officials expect the sum to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as the three jurisdictions employ a small army of part time and temporary workers to help with the tallying.
Across southern Florida, officials also have enlisted scores of county employees, many of whom are racking up expensive overtime hours to help scrutinize through thousands of ballots.
Hand tallies were already underway in Palm Beach and Broward counties and were set to begin Sunday in Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county.
Dade County official said the recount there could take until December, as state election officials try to determine whether Vice President Al Gore, or Texas Governor George Bush won a greater share of Florida's vote.
Victory in the Sunshine State would end the deadlock and allow federal officials to declare a winner of the November 7 presidential elections.
Palm Beach County has drawn on its large population of retirees to help with the task of checking some 460,000 ballots. The task is expected to take five dozen ballot counters nearly a week, at a cost of seven dollars and fifty cents per hour for each worker.
And even in Broward County, where all 240 of the ballot counters and partisan observers are volunteers, the cost of feeding the sizable group is likely to total into the thousands of dollars.
More daunting still are the fees to pay a battalion of lawyers and legal aides during a steady succession of court challenges to the hand counts.
A typical case is that of attorney Sam Goren, who represents Broward County's Supervisor of Elections. He charges 100 dollars per hour for his services, and has lost track of the hours he's logged on the election recount case so far.
"I've been in court more in the past four days that I have been in the past four years," Goren said.
Republicans have been especially critical of the recount, not only because it hurts the election chances of their candidate George W. Bush, but also because there is no end in sight to the mounting cost of the recount enterprise.
"We're counting for no reason and wasting lots of taxpayer dollars," said George LeMieux, vice chairman of the Broward Republican Party.
Broward Republican Party chairman Ed Pozzuoli, meanwhile, noted "serious productivity issues" adding that many of the ballot counters are county and courthouse employees who have been diverted from their regular duties to attend to the controversial recount.
In Broward, some 100 people -- 25 teams of four people, consisting of two officials and a Republican and Democratic party representative -- were expected to work 14-hour shifts in their effort to quickly complete the hand count.
Those workers included two dozen deputies from the county sheriff's department reassigned a security detail at the operations center where the recount is being conducted.
Broward County Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger, a Democratic member of the canvassing board insisted however that money doled out on the manual recount was money well spent.
"Don't you think that it's worth it for the sake of democracy that we preserve every vote?" Gunzburger asked -- MIAMI (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)