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If a new election was ordered in Palm Beach County, it might not be run by county elections officials. This time, it could be handled by 800 briefcase-toting, calculator-carrying accountants. And it could be done in the most old-fashioned of ways: on paper ballots, with voters marking an “X” next to their candidate of choice. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Florida Supreme Court had not yet ruled on whether to allow a new election in Palm Beach County, as is being requested by a handful of Palm Beach voters who filed suit. The Republican Party is protesting the request, which could benefit Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. The Democrats, however, declined to get involved in this case. Still, if a new election was to be granted, lawyers for the voters want it to be conducted by the national accounting firm Grant Thornton. As part of its briefs filed with the state supreme court, lawyers representing the Palm Beach voters included an affidavit signed by the national accounting firm Grant Thornton. The affidavit states that the firm can supervise a revote for president in Palm Beach County, to be done on Friday, and can count and certify the ballots by 5 p.m. Saturday. The firm would have an accountant at each precinct, design a new ballot to replace the controversial “butterfly ballot,” and have voters write an “x” next to their candidate of choice. The plan calls for only those who voted in the Nov. 7 election to vote again. The inclusion of an accounting firm was a vital aspect of the voters’ case, since it refutes opposing arguments that a revote could not be done in an acceptable time frame, said Weston, Fla., attorney Roy Oppenheim, one of the attorneys representing the voters. “We assumed that Palm Beach County could not do it this quickly,” said Oppenheim. “The firm would send 800 employees to run the election.” Oppenheim’s friend, Weston Mayor Harry Rosen, led him to the firm. The firm, the first he called, accepted the job immediately. Grant Thornton, the seventh largest accounting firm in the country with 3,000 employees, agreed because “this is a major project, businesswise, and it would be a chance to help contribute to the democratic process,” said spokesman John Koegel. The firm was not concerned about the appearance that it was taking Gore’s side, he said. “We’re not taking sides,” he said. “We’re objective and independent. We are auditors, we observe and attest. This plays to our strengths.” While Grant Thornton has never run a public election, it has conducted elections for public companies. And accounting firms have overseen other large contests: There’s Price Waterhouse’s annual monitoring of the movie industry’s Academy Awards. Grant Thornton does not have 800 employees in Miami and would likely have to pull from other offices, said Koegel. The big question: Just what is the going price for running a presidential election? Koegel says that has not yet been determined; the firm could charge an hourly rate or a flat fee. But it certainly is not working pro bono. “That would be the biggest pro bono project in history,” he laughed. A trust fund has been established to pay for the legal effort.

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