By CHARLES HOLMES
Cox News Service
Cox News Service
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.- Vice President Al Gore’s teetering presidential hopes rest in three Tallahassee courtrooms toFday as the state Legislature opens a special session that could lead to the naming of Florida’s electors for George W. Bush.
Gore’s last, best chance to reverse Bush’s 537-vote statewide victory may be his appeal before the Florida Supreme Court to have nearly 14,000 questionable ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties recounted by hand. The seven-member court heard oral arguments Thursday and could rule as early as today.
Bush’s lawyer, Barry Richard, told the high court that “not a single shred of evidence” exists that Floridians failed to have their legitimate votes counted.
David Boies, arguing for Gore, told the court that every time elections officials in South Florida looked at questionable ballots, “they found votes.” He urged the high court to order a recount in selected counties, saying “time is getting very short.”
As the Florida justices pondered, two other judges in a nearby courthouse heard testimony and final arguments in cases from Seminole and Martin counties, where Democrats allege Republican officials conspired with GOP workers to alter absentee ballot applications. A ruling in at least one of the cases is expected today.
Should the Democrats prevail in either case and obtain a judge’s order tossing out the absentee ballots from even one of the counties, Gore could overtake Bush’s Florida victory, pending further court appeals.
If Gore is to overcome Bush’s lead, he needs time and votes. By law, Florida should name its 25 electors by Tuesday, six days ahead of the Dec. 18 date when the Electoral College chooses the next president.
But if the state’s high court rules against him, Gore could find weary Democratic allies ready to abandon further legal challenges after a tumultuous month with precious few court victories.
“This is coming to an end,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. He said a Bush presidency “looks more and more” likely.
Gore’s legal team refused to rule out further court action. In Tallahassee, Gore attorney Dexter Douglass was asked about previous statements from Democratic lawyers that the Florida Supreme Court would be the final arbiter of the presidential dispute.
“You thought that, and we might have thought that, but it might not be,” he told reporters. “And I’m going to give you an answer that’s ambiguous, because until that unlikely event … occurs, we won’t make a decision as lawyers to make a recommendation to our client.”
Win or lose before the high court, if Gore continues to press his case, Florida legislators are prepared to guarantee a slate of electors for Bush.
House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate President John McKay, both Republicans, said the historic step of calling a special session was necessary to ensure that Florida’s 6 million voters were not disenfranchised, and that the state would be represented in the Electoral College.
The state House and Senate are scheduled to convene today and hold committee meetings, before recessing for the weekend.
The session, the first attempt by any state legislature to insert itself into a presidential contest in more than a century, promises to be highly contentious and partisan. If lawmakers act, it will take the presidential dispute into unknown territory and pose the threat of a constitutional crisis over the selection of president.
Democrats have threatened to file lawsuits challenging any resolution or bill that may be passed by the Legislature that seeks to name electors.
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