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NEW YORK – Former U.S.-U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who led the George W. Bush efforts during the controversial Florida 2000 recount, says the Romney campaign is prepared for any 2012 election “irregularities.”

“We got caught flatfooted in 2000, the Romney campaign learned from the mistakes we made.”

Bolton went on: “This time we have all states covered. We are prepared for any eventuality.”

Bolton, a long-time associate of former Secretary of State James Baker and a law firm partner, led the famous recount and the examination of numerous ballots with the infamous “hanging chads.”

He explained the experience gained in 2000 could be invaluable if the 2012 election is as close as many polls indicate.

“The Democrats’ approach in Florida was to find any approach they could to force a recount in areas they thought they could harvest votes. … It had less to do with problems with the voting and more with an attempt to change the result of the election. As certain as an election could be all went for Bush and yet the Democrats persisted in the argument that there were problems with butterfly ballots … that some were not written in Creole for Haitian-Americans … others had hanging chads.”

Bolton added: “While there are fewer paper ballots in 2012, the newer electronic voting could prove far more ‘problematical.’

“The old (paper card) ballot may actually have been more reliable than the current electronic voting. … In 2000 we had hard evidence of voting, now all we have is electronic data. It may be easier to play with than the old-fashioned punch card. It may be easier to fix an election by manipulating a few electrons. With the punch card or a written ballot you could hold them. Instead of hanging chads, we may have missing electrons.”

The newer voting systems ma,y in fact, be more, not less, prone to tampering, said Bolton.

His concerns come on the heels of published reports that early election voting in several states showed ballots cast for Romney were tabulated for Obama.

While he does not believe that the 2000 problems will resurface in Florida, other states (such as Ohio) could pose a challenge.

“That is why the Romney campaign will have lawyers in key states already mobilized to try and sniff it out (voting irregularities) and prevent them if possible.”

Bolton is especially concerned about election operations in states hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already stated he might consider extending voting by as much as 20 days by executive order. He already decided that voters living in areas with no open polling places could move to nearby open centers out of their district by simply signing special affidavits.

“I think this is a real potential problem especially with a computerized system,” Bolton said. “I hope the states have backup paper ballots. I think what people must insist on to ensure the integrity the election process is that their votes are actually counted. If they lose faith in that, we (as a nation) have a real problem.”

Bolton cautioned: “These unlimited extensions are really unfair to people.You play by one set of rules and then the rules change?

“That’s what the Democrats were trying to do in Florida (in 2000). I think it undercuts the voting process in very serious ways.”

As a political observer, he anticipates a close election.

“There’s no question about it. And, that is why at least on the Republican side we are prepared in all of the battleground states with legal teams already deployed. In 2000, the Democrats were ready and we were desperately coming from behind. They were already organized, they had people who had done this before. I thought that chad was a country in Africa. They had people who knew about ‘dimpled’ chads, ‘pregnant’ chads and ‘hanging’ chads because they had done this before in labor union elections. We learned a lot on the Republican side and I think the Romney campaign is much better prepared this time.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a U.N. affiliate, has insisted on sending “observers” to monitor the elections in several states.

Officials in Texas have already informed the State Department that any foreign nationals appearing inside their polling stations run the risk of arrest.

Bolton agreed that in the end, the presidential electoral process should remain a U.S. operation with no outside input.

“Why the OSCE would do this is beyond me? I would think in a time of tight budgets that if the OSCE could spend money doing that, then the U.S. could find other uses for its (monetary) contributions.”

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