The Florida Recount: Don't Hold Your Breath

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DAVE MARTIN/AP

Members of the Florida State Elections Canvassing Board

It's going to take a while for an information-addicted people — and their dealers, the media — to adjust to this pace. With a reporter working every one of Florida's 67 counties, as of Thursday night the Associated Press had nailed them all down. Their unofficial Recount count, sans absentee ballots, was George W. Bush by 327.

But don't tell that to the state of Florida.

The much-anticipated end-of-Thursday, end-of-the-recount press conference held by Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris revealed that with 53 of the state's 67 counties reporting, George W. Bush was winning Florida by 1,784 votes. Which was the same count the AP had already forwarded to the chattering class for dispensing to the bound-to-be-curious-who-their-next-president-will-be viewing public.

But Harris, flanked by several members of Florida's electoral apparatus, was to tell the roomful of reporters what they hadn't come to hear: They'd be done maybe Tuesday, maybe not, and anyway they should come back Friday, when they'll have the absentee ballots and there'll be only one number that matters. The press' numbers are meaningless, and quite likely to be wrong.

A familiar refrain. But that's settled — come back Tuesday, and then again Friday, and if you need to, figure on Bush winning. And then the baffled and angry voters of Palm Beach will have the state spotlight all to themselves.

Meanwhile, Bush spokesman Karl Rove is casually telling the same reporters there is an automatic recount under way in the largest county in New Mexico, which could of course tip that state to his candidate. One may soon come to Iowa, which also narrowly went for Al Gore. And maybe Wisconsin and Washington too. And don't forget Oregon, which hasn't even reported a final tally yet. And then there's California — the state's top Republican says his state's 1 million ballots well may tip the electoral brass ring to Bush. (Gore's people confined themselves to murmuring about New Hampshire, which went narrowly for Bush.)

Get the hint? The ballot-crunchers, seeming somehow closer in time to 1786 than 2000, are going to be quite a while. And that excruciating variety of potential delays, ready to be goosed into being by the two sides, will afford those reborn campaigns plenty of time to work the media hordes and talk to their lawyers about Palm Beach (which will undergo its own partial recounts over the weekend; check in Monday).

But it doesn't leave much for the rest of the electorate to do.