By LINDA DEUTSCH
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Vice President Al Gore authorized a new appeal to the Florida Supreme Court today, sending his legal team back to the site of one of his biggest legal victories, The Associated Press has learned.
Gore approved an appeal to the state’s highest court seeking an immediate recounting of disputed votes in two southern Florida counties that were not included in the totals certified by the secretary of state, two Democratic officials said.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gore’s lawyers in papers to be filed later today would ask the justices to do one of two things:
Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls on Tuesday refused to hear Gore’s request on an expedited basis. Instead, he ordered a hearing for Saturday and ordered that disputed ballots from Miami-Dade county be transferred to Tallahassee.
The Gore appeal will ask that counting begin while Sauls considers whether the new number should be added to the official state tally, the Democratic officials said.
One said the Gore appeal would argue that “delay means the defeat of the right of voters of Florida.”
The maneuver, one of several undertaken by Democrats in Florida, returns the vice president to a court where he won a major victory less than two weeks ago.
That’s when the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled that hand recounting could continue for 12 days beyond the original deadline set in state law.
Gore hoped the recounting would help him overtake Bush’s slim lead in the state, but the tallying only brought Gore to within 537 votes of his Republican rival.
Now Gore has been trying to contest those figures, which were certified Sunday night when election officials declared Bush the winner of the state’s 25 electoral votes.
Meanwhile, Bush’s team asked Sauls today to expand his order and bring about 1 million ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties to the state capital, not just the disputed ballots requested by Gore.
“Defendants believe that fairness requires, at a minimum, that if the ballots in Miami-Dade or Palm Beach counties requested by plaintiffs are produced, defendants should be permitted to discover all of the ballots from those two counties,” the Bush lawyers said in a letter to Leon County Circuit Judge Sauls.
They submitted for his signature an order for both districts to bundle up all ballots cast in the presidential election.
The move came as election officials in both counties were packing boxes and preparing about 14,000 disputed ballots, a voting booth and voting machine for a 400-mile, police-escort trek to Tallahassee.
“I think the ballots are going to be like the O.J. Bronco ride,” said Dennis Newman, a Democratic lawyer in Palm Beach County.
In another development, in Martin County, election supervisor Peggy Robbins said Tuesday she gave permission for a Republican Party official to remove “several hundred” incomplete absentee ballot applications sent from GOP voters from her office. The official returned them filled out with corrected voter identification numbers and other information, said Robbins, a Republican. In a similar case in Seminole County, Democrats sued over the GOP handling of absentee ballot applications.
The judge assigned to decide whether there must be a recount of ballots in the legal skirmishing over whether Bush or Gore won the Florida vote ordered the transfer even though he’s not sure he will allow a recount.
“I have no idea what we’re going to do about ballot-counting or not counting,” said Sauls. “Perhaps we can bring the ballots here.”
He accepted an offer by the lawyer for Miami-Dade County to have county police drive more than 10,000 disputed ballots about 400 miles to Tallahassee, the state capital. A Palm Beach attorney said he would make similar arrangements for that county’s 3,000-plus disputed ballots, and lawyers then suggested that a sample voting booth and voting machine be brought in as well.
The judge said he liked that idea. Up until then, Sauls said the plethora of legal motions and dueling arguments were “like getting nibbled to death by a duck.”
He insisted that without a hearing first, “We can count till we’re slap happy,” but the results wouldn’t matter.
The lead lawyer for Gore, David Boies, wasn’t pleased and the vice president’s legal team moved to appeal.
“Palm Beach County lost the right to have their votes counted because they were 127 minutes late,” said Boies. “So we have to look at every hour every day.”
“The fact that this case involves the presidential election is not a reason for us to suspend due process and the fundamental rules,” said Bush attorney Barry Richard who said it was unfair to proceed without adequate preparation time.
With legal papers flying into the courts like a snowstorm, developments erupted on every legal front. Among them:
_Circuit Court Judge Nikki Clark set a Dec. 6 trial date for challenges to results in Seminole County, where a Democratic activist has accused Republicans of tampering with absentee ballot applications and is seeking to have more than 15,000 votes thrown out. If that case is successful, it would cost Bush about 4,800 votes, well over his 537-vote margin in the official certification.
In that courtroom, Bush attorneys enumerated all the cases pending in different courts and contended they couldn’t handle all the work so quickly.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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