Tampa, Fla. When Election Night results left George W. Bush and Al Gore less than one-half of 1 percent apart in Florida, state officials ordered an automatic machine recount of all votes the next day.
At least five counties, and perhaps as many as 18, did not carry out the recount following the closest presidential race in the state's history and did not notify elections officials in Tallahassee of that fact.
Election supervisors in Leon, Okaloosa, Alachua, Hernando and Walton counties said Thursday that they followed what they believe to be the law in Florida, which they said just requires them to check data from scanning devices, software and written ballot audits.
All five counties use optical scanners and paper forms, not the infamous paper-punch ballots that created so much confusion with hanging and dimpled chads. Elections supervisors in those counties said Thursday that the optical system is so accurate that no machine recount is needed, unless reason exists to suspect the machine somehow failed to count any of the ballots properly. So they simply recertified their original count and sent the figures to Tallahassee.
But state elections director Clay Roberts said Thursday that the counties never informed him that they had not done the mandatory recounts.
"My understanding has always been that the law requires them to run the ballots through the machines again," he said. "I got certifications from counties that they followed the law." Asked about the possible effect of counties not recounting the ballots, Roberts said simply: "I don't know."