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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 17:36 GMT
Behind the bias claims
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, talking to Republican officials
Secretary of State Katherine Harris, left, is Republican
With so many twists and turns in the US presidential election row, accusations of political bias have now extended to Florida state officials.

The decision by Florida's Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, to stop the hand counting of votes in two of the state's counties provoked a great deal of anger, and legal moves, on the Democratic side.

Florida's Republican Governor Jeb Bush, and next to him the Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth
Florida's Governor, Jeb Bush, is the Republican candidate's brother
Ms Harris is a well-known Republican and was presidential candidate George W Bush's campaign co-chairman in the state

Warren Christopher, the former US secretary of state who is serving as legal adviser to Democrat Al Gore's campaign, said the ruling by Ms Harris to ignore vote tallies that came in after 1700 on Tuesday Florida time, was "both arbitrary and unreasonable".

He fell short of directly accusing her of trying to fix the election for Mr Bush, whose younger brother Jeb is state governor, but said her decision had to be seen in the context of her political background.

But party affiliations are common amongst state officials and the Democrat Party has its supporters too.

The Florida Attorney General, Bob Butterworth, who has also criticised the Harris decision, happens to be Mr Gore's campaign chairman.

And the federal judge who rejected an earlier Republican appeal to stop manual recounts is a Democrat appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Vested interests?

So as the rival politicians argue back and forth, the very people who rule on recounts and invalid ballots can sometimes come under suspicion of having bias.

Gore team: William Daley, left, and Warren Christopher
The Gore team want to see the hand counts continue
Our correspondent Stephen Cviic says that is the result of America's love of democracy. In US elections, the people are not just choosing a president, congressmen and state governors, but also judges, prosecutors and a host of other officials.

The United States does have a career civil service, but to get to a senior post you usually have to be either elected or appointed by a politician.

In the US, political accountability is considered to be all-important. But it makes it difficult for either party to expect a neutral ruling since most officials have got where they are at least partly because of political criteria.

Even at federal level, figures like the attorney-general are sometimes accused of party bias.

At state level, as is in Florida, political loyalties among officials are more intense.

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