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The BBC's Caroline Thomsett
"Another day of legal wrangling and extreme confusion"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 01:20 GMT
Florida court adds to count chaos
5pm - that's it! protest
Democrats say these demonstrators are wrong
A court-backed deadline to end a recount of votes in Florida has passed, but as legal and political battles continue a conclusion to the presidential election appears no closer.

A state court judge refused to grant a Democrat request to overturn a 1700 (2200 GMT) deadline imposed by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.


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

Judge Terry Lewis

But Ms Harris gave three counties, which are still carrying out manual recounts, until Wednesday 2.00pm (1700 GMT) to explain why they could not meet the deadline to submit returns.

She would then decide whether to consider including their late votes in the totals.

The official tally announced by Ms Harris gives Texas Governor George Bush a 300 vote lead over Al Gore based on returns submitted by all 67 counties.

Florida hand count map

After the first count last week, Mr Bush led in Florida by less than 2,000 votes, triggering an automatic statewide recount.

The Democrats have called for hand votes in four counties because they say mechanical counters have not done the job properly.

The Republicans said late on Tuesday they will ask an appeal court in Atlanta to intervene to stop hand counting.

In a separate legal challenge, Palm Beach Democrat voters are seeking a new vote because of objections to an allegedly confusing ballot paper, known as the butterfly ballot, used in the county.


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

Warren Christopher
They say thousands of Gore voters either mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan or spoiled their paper trying to correct their error.

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 Ms Harris for the Florida count but left the door open for counties to file late "supplemental or corrective returns".

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris
Spotlight is now back on Katherine Harris
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 count
Bush leads by 300
Legal challenges
Republicans will appeal against ruling allowing hand counts
Private Democratic voters appeal over "butterfly" ballots
Deadlines
Counties continuing recounts must justify their actions by 1400 (1900 GMT)
Postal votes must be in by Friday
Electoral college vote 17 December
Inauguration 20 January
He called on four counties either conducting or considering hand counts to move ahead even though that would almost certainly mean filing late results.

"I see an end in a matter of days, not weeks," he said.

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.

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

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.

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
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15 Nov 00 | Vote USA 2000
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