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Reno Concedes, Pledges Support - 2002-09-18

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has conceded defeat in her bid for the Democratic Party's nomination for governor in the state of Florida. Ms. Reno's concession to a rival Democrat comes one week after a primary election that was plagued by balloting problems in two of Florida's most-populous counties.

After a weeklong delay reminiscent of the year-2000 presidential election debacle in Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward counties certified results from last Tuesday's primary contest. Former Attorney General Janet Reno fell short by less than 5,000 votes in her bid to face Governor Jeb Bush in the November election.

Speaking in south Florida, Ms. Reno conceded defeat, but said the battle to improve the state's electoral system is far from over.

"As a candidate, I have put the election behind me," she said. "With this we move forward. But as a private citizen, I want to do everything in my power to see that the people of Florida have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice; [and] the right to have their vote counted in an accurate and timely fashion."

Ms. Reno pledged to campaign for her primary opponent, attorney Bill McBride, who trailed in public opinion polls leading up to the election but pulled off what many observers regard as an upset victory.

Two years ago, a series of balloting problems and controversies made Americans wait more than five weeks to learn who their next president would be. Eager to avoid a repeat, Florida junked decades-old punch card voting machines in favor of new, computerized systems.

But elections officials now concede that poll workers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties received insufficient training in operating the new machines, leading to delayed openings at polling stations and a significant underreporting of election results.

Miami-Dade elections official Gisela Salas said the problems will be fixed. "I do not blame the public for the criticism," she pointed out. "You certainly cannot blame the public for feeling that there are inadequacies in the process and that there are things that need to be rectified. And we [elections officials] totally agree with them. There is a problem, and we are ready to go forward and do what we have to do to make November a successful election."

But apologies and assurances from elections officials have done little to quell anger and dismay. "I think it is a shame that we [The United States] are sending observers to third world [developing] countries to make sure that elections are being done properly," said Lucy Tondreau, a candidate for a seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission. "And right here in Miami-Dade county, we cannot hold an election together. It is a disgrace for the diversity [minority] people who are living here. It is a disgrace for the entire United States."

During a stop in Florida, former Vice President Al Gore, who lost to President Bush by a razor-thin margin in Florida in the 2000 presidential contest, blamed Governor Jeb Bush for Florida's balloting problems.

"Two years have passed since this happened before," he said. "I seriously believe, and I do not think it is unfair in any way [to say this]: I believe, if I were the governor of this state I would have fixed that [elections problems] by now."

Governor Bush has also expressed anger over his state's voting problems. But he notes that polling stations are overseen by individual counties, not the state government, and that counties other than Miami-Dade and Broward had little difficulty operating the new voting machines.