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The BBC's Peter Biles
"The legal burden is becoming heavier"
 real 56k

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Miami
"The Democrats were accused of making an omelette out of the election law"
 real 28k

Saturday, 2 December, 2000, 17:26 GMT
Florida ballot showdown

Documents are brought into court for the lawyers
A circuit court in Florida is hearing arguments on whether votes from two counties should be recounted - an issue which could decide the presidential election.

Lawyers for Democratic candidate Al Gore have asked the Leon county circuit court in the state capital, Tallahassee, to order a recount of 14,000 disputed ballot papers from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

In his opening comments, Mr Gore's leading attorney, David Boies, said: "The certified results reject a number of legal votes, and include a number of illegal votes."


At a glance But lawyers for Republican George W Bush said Florida election officials had acted within the law, and that there was no reason why the court should overturn their decisions.

An expert witness on voting machines called by the Democrats told the court hand counts were the most reliable method in close contests.

Ballot caravans

In earlier hearings this week before Judge N Sanders Sauls, Bush lawyers requested that all ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade should be recounted - a move interpreted by Democrats as a stalling tactic to enable Mr Bush to win by default.

The votes cast there - more than a million in all - have been brought to Tallahassee under tight security in case a recount is ordered after the hearing.

Gore attorney David Boies
David Boies: Uncounted votes could be Gore's salvation
Both counties failed to complete their recounts by a 26 November deadline set by the court, after which election officials certified a Florida result giving Mr Bush a 537-vote lead in the state.

On Friday the Republicans also persuaded Judge Sauls to sequester 1.7 million ballots from three other counties - Broward, Volusia and Pinellas.

Democrats believe a recount could enable Mr Gore to wipe out Mr Bush's official lead.

But Mr Gore's lawyers are racing against time, as a deadline of 12 December looms for Florida and other states to select members to the Electoral College which will meet on 18 December to pick the next president.

Whichever candidate finally wins Florida, with its 25 electoral college votes, is almost certain to enter the White House.

On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a motion from the Gore campaign for an immediate recount of the 14,000 votes, and also turned down a request for a revote by citizens of Palm Beach who objected to the "butterfly ballot" used in the county.

Correspondents say the circuit court could rule by the end of Saturday - but that whichever party loses is almost certain to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

Highest court

This latest case takes the legal battle back to Florida, following Friday's historic hearing in the US Supreme Court in Washington DC.

Florida result
Bush: 2,912,790
Gore: 2,912,253
Bush majority: 537
Nearly six million votes cast
The judges of the country's highest court are expected to rule early next week on whether the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its authority by extending a deadline for certification of votes in Florida, and allowing a manual recount in some counties.

In the US Supreme Court on Friday, lawyers for Mr Bush argued that the Florida Supreme Court had rewritten rather than merely interpreted US law by extending the deadline for certification of Florida's result.

Mr Gore's lawyers argued that the Florida court was within its rights, and had acted to ensure that all votes would count.

More than one judge questioned whether it was right for the Supreme Court to intervene.

The US Supreme Court has not been embroiled in such a highly charged political controversy since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, when it ordered the then president, Richard Nixon, to hand over his White House tapes.


At a glance

Latest

  • 1.16 million ballots from contested votes in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties arrive in Tallahassee
  • 2 Dec: Florida court hearing on whether disputed recounts should restart

    What next?

  • 12 Dec: Deadline for Florida to certify votes. Florida legislature may appoint electors if election still in dispute
  • 18 Dec: Electoral college meets in each state to elect president
  • 6 Jan: Congress counts electoral college votes. If no winner, House of Representatives chooses president and Senate vice-president
  • 20 Jan: Inauguration Day. If no president chosen, House speaker is acting president

    Story so far

  • 7 Nov: On election day US TV networks call Florida for Gore, then Bush, then say too close to call. Close result triggers automatic recount
  • 14 Nov: After deadline for certification and hand recounts in some Florida counties Bush still has narrow lead
  • 18 Nov: Official count, including overseas ballots, increases Bush's lead to 930 votes
  • 26 Nov: After extension of hand recounts, Bush declared winner by 537 votes, but court battles continue

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