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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 08:29 GMT
Q and A: What is taking so long?

As the Supreme court gives the go ahead for manual recounts to be included in the final tally, BBC News Online explains the latest in the electoral battle and looks at when will the final result be declared.

Is it going to be up to the courts to choose the president?

At this rate, it might. An automatic recount confirmed a narrow victory for Republican George W Bush, but there were allegations of serious electoral irregularities, and the courts have now given until Sunday for manual recounts to take place, but it is still unclear whether certain ballot papers will be included.

  • The Florida Supreme Court has set a deadline of 0900 am (1400 GMT) Monday, 27 November, for West Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties to send in their amended results for the state's final official tally.

  • Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga is to consider a Democratic petition on Wednesday calling for dimpled ballots, which have not been punched through entirely, to be counted.

As the current tally stands, whoever wins Florida, with its 25 electoral college votes, will cross the threshold of 270 needed to become the 43rd president of the United States.

The patience of Americans seems to be holding up. A Newsweek poll has suggested 61% of citizens think a fair and accurate count in Florida is more important than ending the dispute quickly.

What difference will a manual recount make?

A manual count may be more accurate that the mechanical count. Voters were supposed to use a pointed instrument to knock out the tiny rectangles alongside their choice of candidate. If the perforated rectangle is punched but manages to cling on by one or more of the cardboard slivers connecting it to the card, it becomes a 'chad'. When the voter's ballot paper is fed through the mechanical vote counter, the chad is sometimes smoothed back into the hole, in effect nullifying the vote.

Democrats believe the manual count would favour their candidate because it would bring into play ballots that were discounted as spoilt. The counties carrying out the hand counts are also overwhelmingly Democrat.

Is a manual recount constitutional or fair?

Republicans argue that a manual recount is unconstitutional. They say that a manual count is unfair on voters elsewhere in Florida because they will not all have been treated in a uniform way.

In the increasingly bitter battle, Republican party officials have alleged a series of irregularities in the hand recount process:

  • A Democrat official is alleged to have eaten some chads

  • Ballots for Mr Bush have, according to Republican observers, been placed on piles for Mr Gore

  • Ballots have been dropped on the floor and tampered with by finger nails and jewellery

  • Republicans also claim that the more a ballot is mechanically or manually handled, the less reliable it is.

What were the allegations of voting irregularities?

Since election night there have been widespread allegations of irregularities in Florida.

These include:

  • A confusing ballot paper that left many voting for the wrong candidate

  • A high level of spoilt votes

  • Civil rights workers believe some voters were intimidated into not voting.

  • Complaints that voters were unable to vote because polling stations were closed or shut early.

The latest irregularities to emerge in Florida include the discovery of ballot boxes in a hotel and a church.

There are also persistent reports that black voters were turned away from polling stations in Tallahassee, the state capital.

Is there a limit to how long this can go on for?

There are certain crucial dates looming. The first is 18 December, when the electoral college meets to vote and declare the president.

The next important date is the inauguration of the 43rd president of the United States, scheduled for 20 January 2001.

If the electoral system fails to produce a president by then, the speaker of the House of Representatives, currently Republican Dennis Hastert, becomes acting president. The House of Representatives will then vote on who will assume the presidency.

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