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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"This was the day the battle for the presidency reached the courts"
 real 56k

Democrat observer, Warren Christopher
"We call now on the counties to move ahead with their hand counts"
 real 56k

Clerk of the Leon County Court
"The motion for a temporary injunction is denied"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 22:33 GMT
Florida ruling hits Gore hopes
5pm - that's it! protest
Democrats say these demonstrators are wrong
Al Gore's hopes of winning the US presidency suffered a setback on Tuesday when a Florida judge backed a deadline to stop vote counting in Florida by the end of the day and ruled that late-filed returns could be ignored.


The secretary of state may ignore late-filed returns but may not do so arbitrarily

Judge Terry Lewis
The 1700 (2000 GMT) time limit has now passed but Volusia county, which filed the lawsuit, has said it will appeal against the decision. The Democrats say they will back the county's legal challenge.

But the Gore campaign also welcomed the wording of the judgement, saying it ensured that currently unfinished manual vote recounts, expected to favour Mr Gore, would be considered beyond the deadline.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris
Spotlight is now back on Katherine Harris
Republican candidate George W Bush led in Florida by less than 2,000 votes after the first count and is reported to still be narrowly ahead on the basis of recounts so far completed.

Although there are threats of legal challenges to results in other states, victory in Florida would almost certainly put the winner into the White House.

Ruling

Judge Terry Lewis upheld the Tuesday deadline set by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris but left the door open for counties to file late "supplemental or corrective returns".


The court's reaction is tantamount to the injunction that we sought

Warren Christopher

Judge Lewis said: "The secretary of state may ignore such late-filed returns but may not do so arbitrarily, rather only by the proper exercise of discretion after consideration of all appropriate facts and circumstances."

Shortly afterwards, former US secretary of state Warren Christopher who is leading Mr Gore's legal team in Florida, said the wording meant the judge agreed that Ms Harris could not ignore results filed after the deadline.

Florida hand count map
He called on four counties either conducting or considering hand counts to move ahead even though that would almost certainly mean filing late results.

Democrats say some voters failed to punch clean holes in the ballot paper, and that their voting intentions cannot be discerned by an automated count.

Shortly before the deadline passed, Palm Beach reportedly decided to resume its hand recount.

Florida count
Bush leads by 388
Legal challenges
Republicans are appealing against ruling allowing hand counts
Private Democratic voters appeal over "butterfly" ballots
Deadlines
Florida recount deadline Tuesday 1700 (2200 GMT)
Postal votes must be in by Friday
Electoral college vote 17 December
Inauguration 20 January
"I see an end in a matter of days, not weeks," he said.

Gore legal spokesman David Boies warned that if they considered Ms Harris acted arbitrarily in rejecting late results, "we may be back in court".

A spokeswoman for Ms Harris said they still anticipated results would be filed by all 67 Florida counties by the 1700 (2200 GMT) deadline.

Ms Harris, a well known Republican and campaign co-chairman for George W Bush in Florida, has already come under fire from the Democrats and some national media who have warned of potential bias.

'Deal' offer

Earlier, the head of Mr Bush's legal team in Florida James Baker offered "a deal" to end the competing legal action.

Bush legal adviser James Baker
James Baker said the Democrats needed to accept finality
Mr Baker, also a former US secretary of state, said if the Democrats dropped their attempt to extend the recount deadline, Mr Bush would accept the result, including those votes recounted by hand, up to the 1700 Tuesday deadline.

"If the Gore campaign accepts this proposal and drops its litigation, we will dismiss our lawsuits," he said.

The Bush camp has yet to decide whether to appeal against a ruling rejecting a Republican request for an injunction to stop the recounts being carried out by hand.

But Gore campaign chairman William Daley, speaking from Washington, dismissed Mr Baker's offer saying: "It truly was not a proposal."

"I think we've got to not try to usurp the courts of Florida," he said.

A federal judge hearing a complaint by Democrat voters who objected to an allegedly confusing ballot paper, known as the butterfly ballot, has already ruled that the state cannot certify the results until this case has been heard. The session is due to start early this week.

Other states

While the world's attention was focused on Florida, other electoral dramas were being played out in states that could still have a bearing on the result.


A recount in the south-western state of New Mexico, which Mr Gore won narrowly in the first vote, has also been had a troubled week.

A recount at one point gave Mr Bush the lead by a mere 21 votes out of some 570,000 cast, but officials have discovered an error worth 500 votes to Al Gore.

The Republicans were also threatening to challenge apparent victories by Mr Gore in the mid-western states of Wisconsin, Iowa and the north-western state of Oregon. Mr Gore led in all by some 6,000 votes or less.

Although Florida is a must-win for Mr Gore, Mr Bush knows that challenges in other states may still give him the presidency.

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See also:

13 Nov 00 | Americas
US elections: Your suggestions
14 Nov 00 | Americas
Behind the bias claims
10 Nov 00 | Americas
US papers watch and worry
13 Nov 00 | Americas
Q and A: What's taking so long?
14 Nov 00 | Americas
'Royal succession' for president
14 Nov 00 | Americas
Gore's hopes rest on absentee vote
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