Maneuvers continue in recount battle

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Al Gore hung his presidential hopes on legal proceedings moving at head-spinning speed a day ahead of arguments before the Florida Supreme Court, counting on a court shocker to upset George W. Bush’s certified Florida victory.

Lawyers sprinted between courtrooms Wednesday to battle over absentee ballots while Bush and Gore submitted papers to persuade the state Supreme Court to rule their way in a fight over recounts.

Late in the day, Republican legislative leaders called for a special session on Friday to choose a slate of electors. The two leaders said they hoped such a step wouldn’t be needed if there’s a court resolution of the disputed election. Democrats denounced the action as a mistake of historic proportions, and accused GOP rivals of moving to ensure Bush’s election.

"We’re protecting Florida’s 25 electoral votes and its 6 million voters," said John McKay, the president of the state Senate.

Rep. Lois Frankel, leader of the House Democrats, shot back, "The only thing missing on the proclamation is the postmark from Austin, Texas," a reference to the Texas governor’s campaign headquarters.

Gore’s team set the stakes in its filing with the high court, writing: "In but a few more days, only the judgment of history will be left to fall upon a system where deliberate obstruction has succeeded in achieving delay — and where further delays risk succeeding in handing democracy a defeat."

Bush’s team countered that the people had spoken on Election Day and that "at no time in our nation’s history has a presidential race been decided by an election contest in a court of law."

The stalemate that has loomed since Nov. 7 seemed to be nearing the end of overtime and heading to a sudden-death score, almost surely in the form of a court ruling.

One surprise might come from two parallel cases unfolding before separate judges in the same Tallahassee courthouse.

Democrats were challenging a total of 25,000 absentee ballots in Seminole and Martin counties, saying Republicans had been unfairly permitted to correct mistakes on ballot applications, in violation of state law.

Either suit had the potential to switch the lead in Florida’s vote count from Bush to Gore, since Bush won the absentee ballots by a 2-to-1 margin.

Bush, leading by a few hundred votes ever since the Nov. 7 election and talking more like a president-elect each day, said he had "pretty well made up my mind" on his White House staff.

Meeting in Austin, Texas, with his presumptive national security adviser, Stanford University administrator Condoleezza Rice, Bush warned the nation’s enemies not to look for advantage amid political uncertainty.

In Washington, D.C., congressional leaders held the traditional nail-driving ceremony to kick off construction of the inaugural platform on which someone will be sworn in on Jan. 20. The printing of thousands of programs, invitations and tickets remained on hold.

Virtually everyone was looking toward the courts for a final answer.

One interim ruling finally went Gore’s way on Wednesday. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said Bush and his supporters failed to prove they were irreparably injured by hand recounts that lowered his lead from 930 votes to 537 out of the 6 million cast in Florida.

In Florida, the legal landscape was less clear. Bush and Gore submitted written legal arguments to the state’s highest court in advance of toTday’s oral arguments.

"Time is of the essence in this matter," Gore said in his papers. "If the office at issue was not the presidency … delaying ballot counting until after all other issues are resolved would not be such an irremediable and egregious error."

Gore asked the high court to overturn Leon County Circuit Court Judge Sanders Sauls, who refused to order a hand recount of some 14,000 disputed ballots in predominantly Democratic counties.

Sauls rejected every Gore argument on Monday, saying even recounts would not be likely to give a victory to the vice president.

Bush’s legal team seized on the judge’s reasoning, saying, "Yet another recount on any significant scale would likely prove futile."

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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