MIAMI — A federal judge today refused to stop hand recounts in scattered counties in Florida, rejecting a Republican lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks said the question of halting recounts is not a matter for federal courts and properly belongs in state court.
"While I share a desire for finality, I do not believe it is served" by involving a federal court, he said after hearing arguments from lawyers representing George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. The ruling, which Middlebrooks himself said was likely to be appealed by the Republicans, marked the latest turn in a presidential election now one week past the balloting with no end in sight.
The winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes stands to gain an Electoral College majority and become the nation’s 43rd president.
Bush has a 388-vote lead in an unofficial tally by the AP, but Middlebrooks’ ruling clears the way, temporarily at least, for either side to seek additional hand recounts that could affect the count.
The ruling came a short while after Florida’s top election official pledged to wrap up the vote recount by late Tuesday afternoon. Democrats suggested she was motivated by her Republican affiliation, and her effort to meet the deadline was thrown into doubt by the legal maneuvering in at least two courtrooms around the state.
Speaking from the bench, Middlebrooks said the procedures for manual recounts appear to be politically neutral. Republicans had argued that a manual recount in just a handful of counties selected by the Democrats — rather than all 67 — would dilute the vote of people elsewhere around the state.
He said he considered that a serious argument but insufficient to warrant intervention.
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