TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced Wednesday night she would deny attempts by scattered counties to submit hand recounts of ballots to the results of the contested presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

The state's chief elections officer, sharply criticized by Democrats in recent days as a partisan Republican, declared it was ``my duty under Florida law'' to reject requests from several counties to update their totals.

Bush holds a 300-vote lead in the state whose 25 electoral votes will settle the presidential election.

Harris said the state's vote count would be official when overseas absentee ballots are rolled into the totals by midnight Friday.

She noted her decision was subject to an appeal in the courts _ and it seemed likely there would be one.

Harris stepped to the microphones to make her announcement seven hours after the 2 p.m. deadline she had set for counties to petition for the right to update their returns.

She said four counties had done so _ Democratic-leaning Broward, Palm, Miami-Dade and GOP-leaning Collier _ and she had reviewed their paperwork.

``The reasons given in the requests are insufficient to warrant waiver of the unambiguous filing deadline imposed by the Florida Legislature,'' she said, without further elaboration.

The announcement capped a tumultuous day in which the state supreme court refused to stop hand recounts planned or underway in three heavily Democratic counties, but a federal appeals court agreed to consider the Bush campaign's attempt to halt the new canvasses.

The federal court's unusually rapid decision to accept the case could launch the controversy firmly on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.