Judge rebuffs Gore recount request

Associated Press and Cox News Service

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With the legal clock ticking and polls showing the public’s patience wavering, Al Gore suffered a setback Tuesday in his battle to get a recount of South Florida ballots he hopes will reverse his defeat.

Meanwhile, as the campaign played out in courtrooms, another legal team in Washington filed arguments hoping to head off the U.S. Supreme Court from dealing an additional blow to Gore’s fight for the presidency.

Gore lawyers sought a speedy hand recount of some 14,000 contested ballots from Florida’s Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties Tuesday to ensure "no question, no cloud" hangs over the nation’s 43rd president. Circuit Judge Sanders Sauls rejected his timetable.

The judge said he would first have to hear evidence on the matter at a hearing he set for Saturday, and ordered the ballots — along with one or two voting machines — sent to Tallahassee in case he agrees that a recount is needed.

Gore’s lawyers said they would appeal that decision to Florida’s Supreme Court in an effort to get the recount started sooner. Bush’s lawyers had objected strenuously to the recount starting at all, saying Sauls must first hear evidence.

Sauls agreed.

"You’re going to be like the fella who ran out and jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions," the folksy judged drawled to Gore lawyers. "Before we start counting it seems to me we’d need to know what would be the standard."

The decision was a clear blow to Gore, who is racing against a deadline of Dec. 12 when Florida must select its Electoral College representatives.

The ballots in question were contested by Gore’s observers, who say most of them have dimples that indicate the voter intended to select one of the presidential candidates. Machines did not count the ballots because the paper chads weren’t completely punched out.

In Washington, meantime, Bush’s lawyers were arguing that there should be no recounts at all.

In U.S. Supreme Court filings on Tuesday, they asked the nine justices to bring "legal finality" to the election by overturning Florida’s top court and ending any further recounts.

The case has the "potential to change the outcome of the presidential election in Florida, and thus the nation," Bush lawyers wrote.

Gore’s legal team argued in its brief that the issue "does not belong in federal court." They want the justices to back the Florida Supreme Court, which had extended the deadline for recounts.

U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments are set for Friday.

Earlier Tuesday, Gore made his second public appearance of the last 24 hours to ask the American public for its patience and to assert that the hand recounts are vital for a fair result in the disputed election.

He said new vote counts in Florida could be completed within a week.

"This is the time to count every vote and not run out the clock," Gore said, referring to what he said were efforts by Bush’s lawyers to delay the proceedings.

In other presidential election news:

  • Florida’s Supreme Court collected legal briefs from attorneys in the dispute over Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot. Democrats said the ballot was so confusing that Gore voters mistakenly backed Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

  • Democrats accused Republicans of tampering with 4,700 absentee ballot applications in Seminole County, near Orlando, in a lawsuit heard before a Tallahassee judge. She refused to consolidate the case with Gore’s election contest and set up a fast-paced schedule to begin Wtoday.

  • President Clinton’s staff offered to organize daily security briefings for Bush so he’ll be ready to serve if Gore’s protests fail. The Secret Service also proceeded with "parallel" transition operations — giving both the Democratic and Republican tickets the same training sessions, briefings, and help securing personal property for the move into the White House or vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory.

  • Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered an internal review of the way the military handles absentee ballots from troops stationed abroad in light of the political dispute over disqualified votes in Florida. Kenneth Bacon, spokesman for Cohen, said among the issues the Pentagon inspector general will examine is why some absentee ballots from overseas arrived without postmarks, contrary to normal procedure.

  • Thanks to the voters and a constitutional quirk, Democrats will probably have a Senate majority for 17 days in January. But bowing to political reality, they said Tuesday they won’t try controlling the chamber during that period.

    "I don’t anticipate forcing issues that would polarize the Senate right off the bat," Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said.

    The Constitution calls for the new Congress to convene on Jan. 3. When it does, it will be split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, assuming that a recount confirms that Washington state Democrat Maria Cantwell narrowly ousted Republican Sen. Slade Gorton.

    But under the Constitution, the next president is not sworn in until Jan. 20. That would leave Democrats with an edge during the intervening period because Gore will be vice president until Jan. 20 and will have the constitutional authority to break tie votes in the Senate.

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