Gore appeal expedited

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s highest court kept the presidential race on the legal fast track Tuesday, agreeing to speedily hear Al Gore’s appeal of a ruling awarding George W. Bush the state’s 25 electoral votes.

The arguments were scheduled for Thursday morning, the latest legal twist among many in the month since the presidential election left Bush leading by a slim margin among 6 million votes cast in the pivotal state.

Gore wants to reverse a devastating defeat Monday, when Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls rejected every argument Gore presented for why a state-certified 537-vote victory for Bush should be nullified.

Sauls concluded Gore had not proven the results of the election would change even if his legal arguments won out and the court conducted hand recounts of 14,000 disputed ballots in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said the justices had allotted an hour Thursday for oral arguments, 30 minutes apiece. On a technical point of what issues would be argued, he said lawyers would discuss whether the court should decide the case as well as the issues.

The court could still reject the case, uphold Sauls’ ruling or reverse all or part of it, returning it to the lower court with further instructions.

Joseph Lieberman, Gore’s vice presidential candidate, said the Florida Supreme Court would be "the final arbiter" of the election dispute.

Gore’s appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was one of two election-related cases before the high court. The other, returned Monday from the U.S. Supreme Court, sought clarification of the reasoning behind the Florida court’s extension of the manual recounting deadline. Written arguments were submitted by both sides Tuesday.

On other legal fronts:

  • Black leaders from Jacksonville filed a lawsuit contesting the presidential election, charging that George W. Bush was declared the certified winner in Florida only after minorities were systematically denied the right to vote. According to the lawsuit, 26,000 ballots were not counted in Duval County. More than 9,000 of those ballots were cast in largely black precincts where Gore captured more than 90 percent of the vote. The suit alleges that "motor-voter" registration program records were never turned in to the county elections supervisor. Also, voting equipment problems and a botched sample ballot caused many ballots to be unfairly thrown out, the suit says. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, is a plaintiff in the case.

  • Though Gore has not joined a challenge to several thousand absentee ballots in Seminole County, the vice president said it appeared that enough potential Democratic votes to give him victory were thrown in "the trash can by the supervisor of elections there."

    He said the Democratic votes were lost while Republicans were unfairly allowed to correct absentee ballot applications. A trial was set in the case for toWday after a lawsuit accused Republicans of tampering with ballot application forms by adding voter identification numbers.

  • A judge in Pensacola listened as Republican attorneys urged that hundreds of rejected overseas ballots, mostly from military personnel, be counted. U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier promised a prompt ruling.

    The Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.

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