Court blocks quick end to the Florida vote count


Associated Press

On a topsy-turvy day of law and politics, the Florida Supreme Court froze the state’s presidential tally on Friday, forbidding the secretary of state from certifying results of the marathon vote count just as Republican George W. Bush was advancing his minuscule lead over Al Gore.

With the presidential race in the balance, a federal appeals court refused to block recounts under way in two heavily Democratic counties while a third county – Miami-Dade, the state’s largest – announced it too would begin a recount.

The dual rulings were a major blow to Bush, his hopes of a quick certification dashed as Gore’s recount campaign grinds away.

The count of absentee votes from overseas was the final installment in Florida’s routine vote-counting process. With returns from 65 of 67 counties, Bush picked up 1,057 votes and Gore 597, giving the Republican a 760-vote statewide lead, up from 300 when the day began.

Cries of foul came from both camps as the overseas ballots were counted. More than a thousand votes were thrown out as officials from both parties analyzed registrations, postmarks and other details.

“One of the problems with those ballots is it is so difficult under Florida and federal law that you almost have to be a rocket scientist to comply,” said Thomas Spencer, a Miami attorney working for Bush.

In separate manual recount activities – the subject of frantic court activity – Gore picked up a net of 48 votes in Broward County while Bush picked up a net of four votes in the closely watched tally in Palm Beach County. All this out of 6 million votes cast across the state.

The winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes will win the White House. In New Mexico, late tallies gave the state and its 5 electoral votes to Gore. He holds a 200,155-vote lead out of the 103 million ballots cast nationwide, and a slender lead in the electoral votes.

On a day pitted with emotional highs and lows for both campaigns, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected Bush’s request to halt the recounts, returning the matter to Florida courts.

As aides watched glumly from Texas, Bush adviser James Baker said neither court has yet to address the core of the Bush’s case, that hand counts from selected counties are unfair and expose the election to mistakes and political mischief. “We remain confident … the Supreme Court will find the secretary of state properly exercised her discretion” in barring manual recounts, he said.

Republican operatives were in each of Florida’s 67 counties in case a statewide manual recount was ordered either by the courts or – as a last resort – by Bush himself.

Bush aides had been working behind the scenes to set up a “victory” statement toSday, followed by a news conference Sunday, plans that were put on hold by the court setbacks.

“As we say around the office, the worm turns,” said Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani. “And now the worm is getting dizzy.”

Florida’s high court stopped Secretary of State Katherine Harris from certifying the results of the state’s election today at the end of absentee balloting. She planned instead to release an updated count without comment.

The one-paragraph Supreme Court ruling blunted a morning order from a trial court judge who upheld Harris’ right to seal the results.

In its unanimous order, the high court said they wanted to “maintain the status quo” while lawyers made their challenges in the state that will settle the race for the presidency. Harris was told not to act “until further order.”

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

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