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Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 12:31 GMT
Eyewitness: Heated emotions in Florida
Democrat supporters demonstrate in favour of hand counts
There is anger on both sides of the political divide
By Jane Hughes in Tallahassee

By the time Katherine Harris, Florida's Republican Secretary of State, finally appeared, after a two hour delay, to announce who had officially won the breathtakingly close recount that should determine the outcome of the US presidential election, the tension in Florida's elegant State Capitol building was at breaking point.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris
Katherine Harris has big decisions to make in Florida
"In the race for president of the United States, the results are 2,910,492 for George W Bush, 2,910,192 for Al Gore," she said, speaking in the knowledge that the eyes of the world were on her.

Just around the corner, in the American football memorabilia-adorned Andrew's Sports Bar, the sports channels had been switched off, and customers were glued to her every word. When they heard that Mr Bush's majority was down to just 300 votes, a collective gasp went around the room.


I'm willing to go to jail

Democratic official
Then, as they settled back to their beers and burgers, the question of what should happen next began to be debated from one table to the next. And opinions divided firmly down party lines.

John Broome, a Republican, said Mr Bush had won Florida twice, and that the process should stop.

"There should be no more votes," he said. "Count the absentee ballots on Friday, and then let Bush go ahead and get sworn in."

But his Democratic companion, Paula Lewis, shouted him down, and retorted that all the results from all hand counts in Florida should be tallied before anyone is named president.

"It casts a doubt on the process when they're down to so few votes and they put the brakes on," she contended. "If they're going to pursue it at this point, they need to pursue it to the utmost."

No end in sight?

That is precisely what the Democrats now seem to be doing, aware that hand recounts could give Al Gore crucial extra votes.

Anyone who hoped this might be drawing to a close soon, should have listened to the rowdy debate by Palm Beach County's electoral board, as they pondered the rules about carrying on their hand count now the state imposed results deadline has passed.

"What happens next?" demanded one official. "Do we go to jail if we keep counting?

"I'm willing to go to jail."

There were loud cheers from the watching crowd.

The encounter illustrates how heated emotions have become in Florida. This drama been playing for a week. So far, Americans have been prepared to wait patiently.

But they may begin to lose patience if this goes on much beyond the weekend.

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