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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Election offices in Florida that now resemble crime scenes"
 real 56k

Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 07:22 GMT
Bush camp raises stakes
election workers recounting vote in Miami
Recounting the vote in Miami, Florida
The Republican camp has raised the stakes over the recount in Florida to determine the winner of the closest US presidential election in decades.

With the nationwide vote split down the middle between Republican George W Bush and Democrat Al Gore, the race for the White House hinges on the Florida ballot.

There have been a number of allegations of electoral irregularities in Florida and it is possible that the Gore camp could take court action to get changes.

Some Democrat voters in the West Palm Beach region have already filed a lawsuit demanding a new election after complaining that the layout of the ballot paper was confusing.

The Bush campaign has given an implied warning to Democrats not to try to bypass the count with legal action.

The Florida result will push one candidate into the lead
In the first Florida count, Texas Governor Mr Bush had a majority of about 1,700 out of six million votes cast. Under the state's electoral law a recount is mandatory if the results of the two candidates differ by 0.5% or less.

Early results from the recount show little change from the original returns. With half of the counties having redeclared, Mr Gore appears to have made a net gain of about 200 votes.

At this rate he appears unlikely to catch up but he may still be saved by the absentee ballot of an estimated 2,300 people living abroad.

The final result is expected on Thursday and if it is not significantly different, both candidates will have to wait days for ballots from the rest of the overseas voters.

Florida election officials have set a deadline of 1700 local time time on Thursday for the recount to be completed but it remains possible that legal challenges could delay the process further.

After an election night described as unprecedented in US politics, Mr Gore conceded defeat only to retract that concession half an hour later as it became apparent that the Florida results were still too close to call.

In the US as a whole, Vice-President Gore was narrowly ahead of Mr Bush on Wednesday, with 49% against 48% of the popular vote.

But Mr Gore could still lose if Mr Bush wins in the electoral college - the group from each state who formally elect the president . The candidate who wins in Florida will pick up all of its 25 college votes - enough to clinch the presidency.

Not since 1888 has the winner of the popular vote failed to secure the college.

No American will ever be able to seriously say again 'my vote doesn't count'

President Bill Clinton

A statement issued by one of George Bush's closest aides, Karen Hughes, said the original Florida vote count gave the election to Mr Bush and the automatic recount would confirm this result.

Once that process was complete, she said, they expected the vice president to respect the will of the people.

Our correspondent Paul Reynolds says this amounts to a warning to the Gore camp not to engage in legal manoeuvres to overthrow a result favourable to Mr Bush.

Mr Bush says he is still confident that he will become the 43rd president and the mood in the Bush camp has been described as "bullish".

Mr Gore has said the election must be resolved in line with the constitution, and there should be no rush to judgement.

Conflicting reports
Midnight: Networks say Gore has won Florida
0300: Networks retract reports of Florida victory
0730:Gore congratulates Bush on victory
0830: Gore retracts concession of victory
Florida recount begins
GMT, times approximate

The elections which included battles for seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate has left the Republicans with reduced majorities in both houses.

First Lady Hillary Clinton won the New York Senate seat for the Democrats.

But whoever wins the presidency, the balance in Congress means that negotiation rather than firm government will be the order of the day.

Counting is also still continuing in one other battleground state - Oregon. But it is less critical than Florida, which has a larger number of electoral college votes.

Turnout was expected to be about 52%.

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See also:

09 Nov 00 | Americas
Legal road to White House?
09 Nov 00 | Americas
Cliffhanger creates policy problems
08 Nov 00 | Americas
How Bush could lose, but win
08 Nov 00 | Americas
TV networks behind turmoil
08 Nov 00 | Americas
The election in quotes
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