Albuquerque, N.M. While Florida elections officials carried out a contested recount of ballots from Tuesday's presidential race, the bumpy count in New Mexico rests at a hair-slim margin of four votes, with Texas Gov. George W. Bush edging ahead of Vice President Al Gore.
The minuscule margin makes the presidential race in New Mexico the closest in the nation and one of the closest on record anywhere.
Here in a drafty warehouse patrolled by sheriff's deputies, officials continued the struggle to count for the first time ballots cast in Bernalillo County.
The county has one-third of New Mexico's registered voters and its election effort has been plagued by computer-programming blunders and a series of missteps. First a programming glitch left 67,000 ballots untallied on Election Day. Then a box full of uncounted ballots went missing. Then, during Friday's "final, final" accounting, a last-minute decision allowed some disallowed ballots to be counted.
All of which has been presided over by the county's serene three-term clerk, Judy Woodward, whose annual difficulties processing election returns have earned her statewide disdain. Her staff's slow-poke approach to tabulating results delayed what has been a dramatic outcome: As of late Friday, Gore's 10,000-vote election night margin in New Mexico had evaporated. With all but 189 votes tallied, Bush has taken the tiny statewide lead and for now can lay claim to New Mexico's five electoral votes.
Unlike Florida, the state has no provision for an automatic recount in closely contested races.
Last week the county's voting machines failed to properly handle ballots in which voters cast a straight-party ticket. Woodward accepted responsibility for the computer-programming error, and vowed to solve it. But then she angered state election officials by sending poll workers home at 10 p.m. on Tuesday instead of immediately ordering a hand count.
In spite of the incomplete tally from the state's largest county, the networks declared Gore the winner.
The count of the county's 67,000 early and absentee ballots began in earnest late Wednesday but by then, other problems were developing. County officials announced they had misplaced 257 ballots. They later turned up in a locked ballot box in the same voting machine storage warehouse where the counting was taking place.