Bush appeals to U.S. Supreme Court

By DAVID ESPO

Associated Press

George W. Bush gained unexpected ground in Florida’s contested presidential election today when local officials shut down a manual recount vital to Al Gore’s hopes for a come-from-behind victory.

While Gore’s top aides pledged a court appeal, Republican sources said Bush was seeking to consolidate his gains by deciding to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to order an end to recounts under way in two other counties.

The events tumbled unpredictably out of south Florida as Republican running mate Dick Cheney was hospitalized with chest pains in Washington. Doctors operated on the vice presidential candidate and inserted a stent to treat a narrowing in one artery segment. They said he should recover fully.

“I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida,” Bush said at midday as events churned on in the incredible election of 2000. “And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result.”

William Daley, Gore’s campaign chairman, countered, “We hope the counts continue.” He added, “All we are asking for is that the rule of law be respected and upheld and that all the votes be counted in a way that is consistent with Florida law.”

Bush holds a 930-vote lead in the state that stands to pick the next president, and Gore was hoping to overtake him based on manual recounts in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The immediate result of the board’s decision was to erase the 157 votes Gore had gained in the hotly disputed Miami-Dade recount. And it also deprived the vice president of a potential trove of votes he had been counting on.

On a day in which the political pendulum swung, then swung back, the Miami-Dade County canvassing board first decided to accelerate the counting of questionable ballots, a step that seemed to be good news for Gore.

Republicans protested furiously, and Bush himself said the manual recounts pressed by Gore in three Florida counties invited “human error and mischief.”

After a chaotic morning of vote counting, punctuated by angry shouting by protesters, the chairman of the Miami-Dade board said he had concluded it was physically impossible to count all ballots that needed counting by the state Supreme Court’s Sunday deadline.

“I do not believe we have the ability to conduct a full, accurate recount” under the limits, said Lawrence King.

Separately, Bush filed suit in Florida seeking to have hundreds of rejected overseas absentee ballots counted. The ballots, cast by members of the armed forces, were thrown out last week after Democrats protested a lack of proper postmarks.

GOP sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush had also agreed to file papers in the nation’s highest court, seeking effectively to overturn a Florida Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday night that said the recounts could continue until Sunday.

The recounting continued in Broward County, where Gore had gained 78 votes thus far. Officials in Palm Beach County, where Gore had gained a handful of votes, suspended their work to await a court ruling they hoped would provide guidance for accepting or rejecting questionable ballots.

The flurry of events unfolded on the morning after a pivotal state Supreme Court ruling. In a unanimous order, the justices ruled the recounts could continue until Sunday, when a final vote certification was required.

That ruling spread optimism through the Gore camp and anger, blended with near-despair, in the GOP ranks.

“Make no mistake, the court rewrote the laws. It changed the rules and it did so after the election was over,” Bush said in a noontime appearance before reporters in Austin, Texas.

A short while later, Daley spoke from the lawn outside the vice president’s residence in Washington.

“We must uphold the rule of law and we should not attack our courts,” he said. He said that a recount is mandatory, and added, “We will immediately be seeking an order directing the Dade County board of canvassers to resume the manual recount.” There was no immediate word on which court would receive the Gore campaign petition.

Touching on yet another area of controversy, Bush urged Gore to join him in making sure that “all overseas military ballots that were signed and received in time count in this election.”

More than a thousand overseas ballots were rejected last week as Democrats protested a lack or postmarks.

The Gore campaign, under fire for the rejection of the ballots, had signaled a willingness to reconsider the issue. Daley addressed that issue carefully.

“Well, all of us agree that those legally cast ballots, whether they’re military ballots or civilian ballots, should be counted. There’s no question about that,” he said.

As for the Bush campaign, lawyers were weighing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn the state Supreme Court’s ruling, according to several officials.

Both sides have been operating under the assumption that the recount ballots will boost Gore’s totals, and possibly allow him to overtake Bush’s lead in the state that now means everything in the battle for the White House.

Bush spoke ominously of the recount process.

“Voters who clearly punched preferences in other races on the ballot but did not do so in the presidential race should not have their votes interpreted by local officials in a process that invites human error and mischief,” he said.

Republicans responded with a protest and sit-in in the lobby of the county Elections Division. “Let us see the ballots,” they shouted, and “Bush won twice,” a reference to Election Day totals and a recount conducted in the first few days after Nov. 7.

Protesters yelled for police to arrest a Democratic attorney, Joe Geller, accusing him of walking out of the tabulation room with a ballot in his back pocket.

More than a dozen police officers surrounded Geller and led him inside the building to safety. He said later he had a “training ballot” used to show people how to count votes.

“It is clearly marked ‘training ballot.’ I wouldn’t have taken something from elections officials that I wasn’t supposed to have in front of a room full of screaming Republicans,” he said.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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