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The BBC's Nick Bryant
"The fight for the presidency is becoming a fight between lawyers"
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The BBC's Paul Reynolds in Tallahassee
"The decision is a setback for the Democrats"
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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 05:46 GMT
Florida recount battle intensifies
Republican supporters in Florida
Both sides are hoping courts will help them secure victory
The battle in Florida over recounting votes cast in the US presidential election has intensified, and is destined to continue in the courts.

The state's highest election official, secretary of state Katherine Harris, said late on Wednesday that results of hand recounts in three Florida counties would not be regarded as valid.

This is a time to respect every voter, and every vote

Al Gore
The team campaigning for Democratic candidate Al Gore immediately described her decision as "rash and precipitous" and said it would mount a legal challenge.

Mr Gore hopes the hand recounts in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties will help him close the gap with Republican candidate George W Bush, who is just 300 votes ahead.

Additional manual counts of votes that have been counted and recounted will make the process less accurate, not more so

George W Bush
The winner in Florida is expected to be the overall winner of the presidential election.

Ms Harris's decision to deny the recounts came as Mr Gore and Mr Bush battled for public support in rival televised addresses.

Mr Gore promised not to challenge the results of the Florida vote if the hand recounts were allowed to proceed in the three counties, or across the entire state.

He also proposed that hand counts be carried out throughout Florida and called for a one-on-one meeting with Mr Bush, "not to bargain but to improve the tone of our dialogue".

Mr Bush replied that he was prepared to meet Mr Gore, but only after the election had concluded.

He argued that hand recounts introduced "human error and politics into the vote-counting process" and reduced the chances of a fair and accurate result.

Legal imbroglio

Even before the Gore campaign announced a legal challenge to Ms Harris's decision, court actions connected to the hand recounts were continuing to proliferate.

On Wednesday night a group of Florida Republicans appealed to the US federal appeals court in Atlanta to get the recounts halted, after their original petition was turned down by a judge in Orlando on Tuesday.

The Bush campaign has filed a similar case in a federal court in Miami.

Earlier on Wednesday the Florida Supreme Court had rejected a request by Ms Harris, backed by Mr Bush, to end the recounts.

The Gore campaign has also asked the state Supreme Court to determine:

  • whether the hand counts should be accepted
  • when they should be finished
  • and what standards should apply during counting.

Correspondents say the dispute in Florida could ultimately be referred to Washington, for a ruling by the federal Supreme Court.

Recount reasons 'insufficient'

Democrats say the hand recounts are necessary because in counties where voters registered their choice of candidate by punching a hole in a paper ballot, automated counts fail to determine a voter's intention in every case.

Katherine Harris
Katherine Harris said her decision was subject to "judicial intervention"
Counting machines may reject ballots where the hole is not cleanly punched through the paper.

The Republicans say their rivals want to keep counting until they get a Gore victory.

Results of a manual recount in Volusia county filed just before Tuesday's deadline showed a slight swing to the vice-president.

Ms Harris's power of discretion to accept or deny recounts was confirmed by a court on Tuesday.

She asked the three counties to provide their reasons for the recounts by 1400 (1700 GMT) on Wednesday.

More than seven hours later she declared that the reasons given were inadequate.

Palm Beach and Broward counties plan to complete their recounts in the coming days. Miami-Dade has already completed a limited recount in a small number of precincts and requested that the amended results be certified.

Ms Harris, a leading Florida Republican, said she would certify Florida's full results on Saturday once overseas postal votes had been counted.

Absentee vote

The absentee votes are usually thought to favour the Republicans, as many postal voters have military connections.

But the newspaper USA Today says officials have already received significantly more votes than expected - more than 4,000 ballots, up from 2,300 in 1996.

Some observers believe the number has been boosted by Americans living in Israel who may favour the Democrats because of the presence of Joe Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, on the ticket.

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

  • New Mexico - victory given to Mr Gore, then Mr Bush, then Mr Gore
  • Iowa - Republicans may seek recount after a clerical error shrinks Mr Gore's narrow margin of victory
  • Wisconsin - Gore ahead by less than 5,500 out of 2.5 million votes, amid allegations of multiple voting by students.
  • Oregon - Gore's lead is only 4,233 votes out of nearly 1.4 million, and shrinking as postal ballots are counted.
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See also:

14 Nov 00 | Americas
Behind the bias claims
14 Nov 00 | Americas
'Royal succession' for president
15 Nov 00 | Vote USA 2000
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16 Nov 00 | Vote USA 2000
Polls say voters are patient
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