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Monday, 11 December, 2000, 12:20 GMT
Q&A: End of the road?

As the battle for the White House appears to be entering its final phase, BBC News Online examines the timetable for resolving the election marathon.

Will the US Supreme Court's decision bring a final outcome to the election?

The US Supreme Court's decision overturns the Florida Supreme Court's decision allowing a new recount of presidential election ballots.

The court said that varying standards for counting made the effort unlawful, and there was too little time with the electoral college meeting deadline rapidly approaching.

To stand any chance of reaching the White House, Mr Gore would also have to persuade the Florida legislature to properly regulate hand recounts in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling.

This would be the task of Florida's Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris - in the word of one of Mr Gore's lawyers "no friend of ours."

Most analysts agree that Mr Gore's legal avenues are now effectively exhausted.

With pressure growing from senior Democrats and the added risk of long term damage to his image, most believe a concession from Mr Gore cannot be far away.

Is Al Gore likely to win if the manual recount is completed?

The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Friday that all the votes rejected by automatic counting machines in Florida - so called 'undervotes' - should be recounted manually.

The Democrats had asked for undervotes from certain disputed counties - Palm Beach, Miami Dade and Broward - to be recounted. But Republicans argued that this would be unconstitutional, and further that it would skew the results in favour of Mr Gore, as these are all Democrat counties.

In theory, the decision to recount undervotes from the whole of Florida should give both sides an equal chance of picking up extra votes.

But following the aborted recount at the weekend, the two sides disputed the initial results, with Mr Gore's team saying that results so far had cut the Republican lead to a mere 96, and Mr Bush's team saying they had added an extra 42 votes to his tally.

What are the next deadlines?

On 18 December, members from the electoral college all around the country meet in their state capitals and cast votes for president and vice-president.

These votes are then transmitted to Washington DC to be ready for Congress in January.

If there were a recount which gave Florida to Mr Gore, but the Republican-dominated legislature gave it to Mr Bush, there could be two rival electoral college slates from Florida.

The Florida courts might then order Governor Jeb Bush to certify Mr Gore as the winner.

If he refuses, the decision would go back to the Florida Supreme Court.

Will Congress get involved?

On 5 January Congress meets to read the electoral college votes. Normally this is a formality but if there was some dispute it could get involved.

If there were two rival sets of electors, Congress would have to decide between them.

Members of Congress can object to a state's electoral college votes, leading to a debate and then a vote.

Republicans control the House of Representatives but the Democrats (thanks to Al Gore's tie breaking vote) have effective control of the Senate until 20 January - so the outcome would be uncertain.

What about other court actions?

Two lower courts in Florida rejected cases brought by Democrat supporters in Seminole and Martin counties.

The aim of the plaintiffs was to persuade the courts to disqualify 25,000 absentee ballots, mostly cast for Mr Bush, on the grounds that Republican officials tampered with the original applications for a postal vote.

The plaintiffs made an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. But in another victory for the Bush camp, the state supreme court upheld the lower courts' ruling.

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