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Bush, Gore Battle for Fla. Votes

November 18, 2000

Eleven days after the nation voted, George W. Bush and Al Gore are locked in ballot-to-ballot combat in Florida for the state’s 25 electoral votes and the presidency, with no victory pronouncements allowed until the state Supreme Court gives its permission.

Palm Beach County resumed a manual recount of its 462,350 ballots at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Broward County did the same an hour later, and officials there were hoping to finish recounting their 588,000 ballots by 5 p.m. Monday.

``We can probably do it″ if no legal challenges are filed, said Broward County Judge Robert W. Lee, a Democratic member of the county’s canvassing board.

In Miami-Dade County, the state’s largest, officials planned to meet Saturday to decide how to proceed with a hand recount of its 654,000 ballots.

``The one constant is that things are changing, minute by minute,″ Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told reporters Friday.

It was, if anything, an understated description of a tumultuous day on which one court handed Bush a victory, then two others favored Gore; and a day on which overseas absentee ballots boosted the Texas governor while the vice president gained ground from contested manual recounts in heavily Democratic counties.

Controversy was a constant companion. More than a thousand absentee ballots were thrown out Friday, and Republicans accused Democrats of mounting an organized effort to nullify votes cast by members of the armed forces.

Even so, the day’s outcome, much to the Gore campaign’s delight, was to block plans by the Florida secretary of state to certify Bush the winner based only on overseas votes, and to allow the manual recounts to continue over the weekend in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Roughly 1.6 million ballots were cast in those areas on Election Day, and the vice president hopes to emerge from the recount with enough votes to make him the 43rd president.

Bush holds a 927-vote lead, a margin that includes tabulation of overseas ballots from 66 of 67 counties. By themselves, the absentee ballots broke down this way: Bush 1,375, Gore 748.

The overall returns do not include the results of the disputed hand recounts sought by Democrats in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Broward has given Gore an additional 41 votes so far, while Bush picked up four votes in four Palm Beach precincts.

In Vietnam, during a brief farewell ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi, President Clinton joked with Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong about the still unresolved election. ``I have to go home to see if there’s a president,″ Clinton said.

In another closely contested state, New Mexico and its five electoral votes went Friday to Gore, a winner by 481 votes out of more than 590,000 cast. With his slender victory Gore maintained his 200,000-vote lead in the nationwide popular vote.

But the battle for the White House had long since come down to Florida.

``Neither Governor Bush, nor the Florida secretary of state, nor I, will be the arbiter of this election,″ Gore said Friday afternoon. ``This election is a matter that must be decided by the will of the people as expressed under the rule of law, law which has meaning as determined in Florida now by the Florida Supreme Court.″

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking on behalf of the Bush camp, said the court had ``issued an order that neither side requested. Nevertheless, its action is not an order on the merits of the case.″

Gore, then Baker, spoke shortly after the Florida justices stepped into the disputed election on their own, deciding to ``maintain the status quo,″ and ordering Secretary of State Katherine Harris not to certify final statewide returns until further notice.

Harris had previously served notice she intended to certify a winner shortly after noon Saturday, and had been planning a ceremonial certification after the overseas absentee ballots had been counted.

``She welcomes guidance from the highest court. The monkey isn’t on her back anymore,″ said her spokesman, Joe Klock.

While the court changed Harris’ plans dramatically, it added: ``It is NOT the intent of this order to stop the counting″ of absentee ballots or any other ballots. It also set a hearing for Monday.

Hours later, a federal appeals court in Atlanta issued a ruling allowing the hand recounts to proceed.

And the counting _ a relatively small number of overseas votes, more than 1.5 million Election Day ballots _ went on under the careful watch of lawyers for the two parties.

``There are more attorneys than there are ballots,″ said Bob Edwards, a GOP official in Walton County, where five of 10 overseas absentee votes were rejected. In Hillsborough County, protests resulted in the rejection of 74 of the 135 overseas ballots, and Republicans said Democrats were responsible.

The process was the same in the recount counties, although the number of votes involved was much larger.

In Palm Beach County, roughly 1,800 of the first 16,000 ballots to be examined were set aside as questionable, to be examined by the county canvassing board. ``It was part of a deliberate process to delay this recount,″ charged Democratic lawyer Mark White.

There were other complications. ``One fellow dropped some ballots and everybody started hooting and hollering at him″ said Charles Burton, a member of the county canvassing board. ``So we decided OK, we’ll count them over again.″

Passions were escalating, particularly among Republicans who began the day buoyed by a ruling by Florida Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that, for a few hours, granted Harris permission to certify a winner.

With the nation’s Republican governors meeting in Florida, South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow accused the seven state Supreme Court justices _ six of whom are Democrats _ of being ``in the process of disenfranchising the rest of America.″

``This is a hack job,″ he said.

That’s not how the Democrats saw it.

``The American people are patient, we in Congress are patient and so is our democracy,″ the party’s congressional leaders, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, said in a statement of support for the vice president.

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