Bush holds narrow lead
BUSH SUPPORTER n George W. Bush supporters Jessica Byczek of Tampa, Fla., and Lucy Subhasiriwatana of Crown Point, Ind., left holding sign, react Tuesday outside the Capitol in Tallahassee after being told the certified results released by the Florida secretary of state's office confirm Bush's lead over Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore. AP photo
The Associated Press
After a week of suspense, a fistful of lawsuits and thousands of ballots counted, recounted, then counted again by hand in some places, George W. Bush clings to a tenuous 300-vote lead over Al Gore in Florida's decisive presidential election. But the outcome remains uncertain in a struggle that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris took to her state's Supreme Court today.
This is a pretty intense process,'' Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday, his state at the center of a post-election battle unlike any other. I hope this will be resolved.''
On that and that alone, it seemed there was no dispute.
In Harris' Supreme Court petition, filed after Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline for Florida's 67 counties to file certified election results with the secretary of state's office, she said local canvassing boards should stop any effort to hand count ballots pending resolution as to whether any basis exists to modify the certified results'' after the deadline.
She also asked that various legal actions around the state be transferred to a court in Tallahassee.
Without question, this court must make it clear that the election of the president and vice president is not a matter of local pleasure,'' the petition said.
Of the counties where the Gore campaign has sought complete hand recounts, officials in Volusia County had completed them as of Tuesday night; Democratic Party officials said they went to court seeking to force a recount in Broward County; and Miami-Dade voted Tuesday night not to honor the request, although officials said the Gore campaign hoped to overturn that refusal.
Palm Beach County officials stood ready to begin a full manual recount Wednesday morning.
The politics were intense, the legal maneuvering no less so, since the winner of Florida stands to gain an Electoral College majority and take the oath of office Jan. 20 as the nation's 43rd president.
The current White House occupant, President Clinton, assured a gathering of Pacific Rim leaders in Brunei that the United States was not shaken by the election impasse.
The world can rest easy,'' Clinton said early Wednesday.
In a fast-paced series of developments Tuesday, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced that Bush, the GOP presidential candidate, officially held a lead of 300 votes over the vice president out of about 6 million cast, according to totals submitted by all 67 counties in response to her 5 p.m. deadline.
An unknown number of absentee ballots remained to be counted by Friday midnight, Harris said.
Responding to a state court ruling earlier in the day, she acknowledged for the first time that she might reopen the certified vote totals at a later date to take into account manual recounts under way or contemplated. She gave counties until 2 p.m. EST Wednesday to make their cases for such recounts.
I'm requiring a written statement of the facts and circumstances that would cause these counties to believe that a change should be made before the final certification of the statewide vote,'' she said, an act that will occur when overseas ballots are counted Friday night.
Both sides found something to criticize in that.
William Daley, Gore's campaign chairman, accused Harris of imposing additional stress and strain'' on county officials attempting to conduct a laborious hand recount.
And Karen Hughes, Bush's spokeswoman, said counties controlled by Democrats have said they may continue a manual count. Yet if they go forward after tonight's deadline, these Democratic counties are no longer recounting. They are reinventing; attempting to reinterpret the results of the election and the intentions of voters by subjective, not objective means.''
There was evidence that the Gore campaign hoped to muscle up the forces at its disposal. An e-mail circulated to a trial lawyers organization sought at least 500 attorney volunteers to help out with recounts in selected counties. A copy of the e-mail was made available to The Associated Press.
The secretary of state reported the totals after a state court ruled she had the right to enforce her deadline, but the counties also had the authority to keep counting. The secretary of state may ignore such late filed returns,'' ruled Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, but may not do so arbitrarily, rather, only by the proper exercise of discretion after consideration of all appropriate facts and circumstances.''
In the latest unlikely turn of events, both Democrats and the secretary of state's office hailed the ruling, even though they argued different sides of the case.
In the law when somebody has discretion they have to exercise that discretion reasonably,'' said David Boies, a prominent litigator and the newest addition to Gore's legal team. He held out the possibility the vice president's campaign might file suit if it was dissatisfied with Harris' disposition of any vote tallies submitted after the deadline.
A short while later, elections lawyer Donna Blanton, an aide to Harris, expressed satisfaction that the court had upheld the deadline. Still, she added that if updated totals were submitted later, It is then in her discretion to consider all the facts and circumstances, and she will certainly do that.''
Whatever the perceived outcome, officials in Volusia County appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, fearful they would not be able to meet the deadline. They did, however, and stoutly defended the accuracy of their work.
With the case moving through both state and federal courts, Bush and Gore remained out of the public eye, leaving it to their lawyers and aides to press their cases.
That, they did.
This is not about politics. It is about determining the will of the people fully and accurately,'' said Daley. He added, The Bush campaign and Secretary Harris have engaged in a variety of tactics to slow or block this count.''
Republicans were no less pointed.
The votes in Florida have now been counted, and Governor Bush won. They've been recounted, and Governor Bush won. The counties have now certified their votes to the secretary of state, and again Governor Bush won,'' Hughes said.
Yet it appears we now have a deadline that may not be respected as a deadline at all,'' she said, referring to Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline for submitting vote totals.