Parties turn to courts to settle election

By RON FOURNIER

Associated Press

George W. Bush gave a top adviser authority Friday night to seek a court order stopping Al Gore’s campaign from securing manual recounts of contested ballots in Florida, as both sides of an improbably deadlocked presidential election looked to the judicial branch for help in the make-or-break state.

In a war of nerves, Bush’s camp pressed Al Gore to concede Florida without multiple recounts, yet Democrats pressed ahead with their protests — determined to find enough votes to erase Bush’s advantage in initial counting. "The quicker we get this resolved, the better off it is for the nation," said Bush, even as his camp considered whether to seek the injunction.

Replied Gore campaign chairman William Daley: "This campaign is not over."

That is what worried some Democrats across the country, who sought to carefully balance support for Gore with suggestions that his options were dwindling.

"I think that people’s patience is going to be fairly limited," said Gov. Jim Hodges of South Carolina.

Bush clung to a razor-thin lead in Florida — the crucial White House state with its 25 electoral votes — after county officials completed a machine-counted review of the 6 million ballots cast. Still to come were an unknown number of votes from Floridians living overseas and the state’s official certification, due Tuesday.

In Florida, Gore advisers cited confusing and irregular ballots to press for follow-up recounts by hand in four predominantly Democratic counties. They won approval in three — one recount began Friday, two more begin today — and the fourth request will be heard Tuesday.

In a late-night conference call Friday, Bush gave James Baker, the former secretary of state who’s protecting the Texas governor’s interests in Florida, authority to seek a court injunction barring the manual recounts, according to several GOP officials involved in the discussions. The officials said it was very likely the injunction would be sought, but emphasized that it was up to Baker to make the final decision.

To buy some time, Gore’s lawyers asked the state’s Republican secretary of state late Friday to defer certification of the results until the manual recounts are complete.

Republicans were getting into the act. At Bush’s request, Palm Beach County officials will perform a mechanical recount today of all ballots, while conducting a separate recount by hand for Gore.

"The entire effort that’s going on now in Florida is aimed at making sure that whoever takes office in January as president of the United States will do so with full legitimacy," Gore running mate Joseph Lieberman told CBS.

"As frustrating as this wait may be," Daley said earlier, "what we are seeing here is democracy in action."

Frustrated described Bush to a T.

"We will be prepared" to take office Jan. 20, the governor told reporters, taking a break from planning what he hopes will be a transition to power. He and his aides acknowledged that he can’t claim victory before the overseas votes are counted and certified.

"There are still votes to be counted," Bush said.

And so Republicans moved on several fronts to blunt Gore’s ballot challenges. Bush strategists considered seeking recounts in GOP areas of Florida if Democrats started having success in their recounts, a senior strategist said.

Other responses to Gore’s tactics:

  • Bush’s camp portrayed him as a man deep in planning for the presidency, victory nearly assured. "The vote on Tuesday night showed Governor Bush won Florida’s election, and a recount now confirmed his victory," spokeswoman Karen Hughes said in a statement released at 5:30 a.m. EST, catching the first wave of the media cycle.

  • Strategists eyed other close-voting states in case Florida falls to Gore. Republicans in Wisconsin said they found ballot irregularities. And Baker, speaking of recount drives, said ominously: "That game can be played" by both sides.

  • Bush aides said Gore should concede the state and the White House if the initial recount and next week’s certification show Bush ahead. "We certainly hope that in the best interest of the country the vice president will think carefully about his talk of lawsuits and endless recounts," Hughes said.

    An unofficial tally by The Associated Press in Florida’s 67 counties showed the Texas governor with a 327-vote lead. State officials said their recount showed Bush leading by 960 votes with one county left. That was Palm Beach County, where the AP showed a big Gore gain.

    Not counting the Sunshine State, Bush had won 29 states for 246 electoral votes. Gore, who added Oregon to his victory column Friday, won 19 states plus the District of Columbia for 262, with 270 needed for victory. New Mexico, with five electoral votes, remained too close to call.

    Gore’s lead in New Mexico was down to about 100 Friday night.

    The incomplete national popular vote totals showed Gore leading Bush by 218,441 votes: 49,244,746 to 49,026,305 — about 48 percent each.

    Though still talking legal action, Gore’s team was using softer tones than a day earlier.

    The campaign’s legal experts "feel strongly" that the ballot used Election Day in Palm Beach County was unlawful, Daley said. "We’ll see what actions follow out of that."

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

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