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The BBC's Peter Biles in Florida
"For Al Gore's lawyers there's not a moment to be wasted"
 real 56k

The BBC's David Willis
"We are finally now on the closing arguments"
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Monday, 4 December, 2000, 02:32 GMT
Florida court hears final arguments
Judge Charles Burton of Palm Beach county canvassing board
A Palm Beach election official is cross-examined
A court case crucial to the outcome of the US presidential election has adjourned after running late into the night - with judgment now expected on Monday.

Judge Sanders Sauls gave Republican and Democrat lawyers extra time to make their closing arguments in the Leon county circuit court in the state capital, Tallahassee.

Lawyers for Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore are seeking a recount of ballot papers from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties which were rejected by automated counting machines.


At a glance Time is running short for Mr Gore to win the recount he needs to reverse Governor Bush's lead and take the White House.

Earlier on Sunday - the second day of hearings - the Republican team was on the attack, calling witnesses who argued that the manual recount of 14,000 disputed ballots, sought by Mr Gore, would not overturn Mr Bush's victory in Florida.

The Democrats are racing against a 12 December deadline, when the state will make its appointments to the Electoral College which chooses the president.

The Gores on Wisconsin Avenue, Cleveland Park
Al and Tipper Gore relaxed in Washington as the hearing continued
Judge Sauls rebuffed a Democratic request for the recount to be started before the end of the hearing.

Pressure


I think long term, history would regard him in a better light if he were to bring this to a close in the very near future

Dick Cheney
Mr Bush's running-mate, Dick Cheney, piled pressure on the Gore team, saying in a television interview that he thought history would judge Mr Gore more favourably if he conceded defeat now.

Mr Gore responded by telling CBS television that he would be ready to recognise his opponent as president, but only if the court battles went the Republicans' way.

"If at the end of the day, when all processes have taken place, if George Bush is sworn in as president, he will be my president; he will be America's president," he said.

Expert witness

In court on Sunday, the Republicans called as a witness a statistician, Laurentius Marais, who cast doubt on Democrat predictions that Mr Gore would pick up 600 extra votes in Miami-Dade county if a recount were ordered there.

He said the sample on which this forecast was based came from strongly pro-Democratic precincts that were atypical of the county as a whole.

But the Gore team got another Bush witness - voting systems expert John Ahmann - to accept that a manual recount was advisable in very close elections.

Punchcard demonstration
The court was given a demonstration of how voting punchcards work
On Saturday Mr Gore's lawyers had called America's leading voting machine expert, Kimball Brace, who also said that manual recounts were the only accurate way to determine such a close election.

Questioned by Republican lawyers, Mr Ahmann also said that when handling a ballot it was easy to dimple it accidentally, without an intention to vote.

Judge Sauls has the power to order a recount, but any ruling he makes is bound to be subject to appeal.

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

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 the narrowest of leads in the state - just 537 votes out of more than six million cast.

Highest court

The judges of the country's highest court are expected to rule in the next few days 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.

Lawyers for Mr Bush argued in the US Supreme Court that the Florida Supreme Court had rewritten rather than merely interpreted US law by extending the deadline for certification of Florida's result.

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

Our correspondent in Tallahassee, Malcolm Brabant, says there one other court case pending which could throw Mr Gore a lifeline.

The lawsuit has been brought by a Democratic party activist, who says thousands of absentee ballots in Seminole County should be disqualified, on the grounds that Republican party workers tampered with the ballot applications.


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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