Tags: Bush | Leads | Florida | 300 | Votes | for | Now

Bush Leads Florida by 300 Votes - for Now

Tuesday, 14 November 2000 12:00 AM

Capping a day of political maneuvering and judicial rulings, Harris took the stage to say that "in the race for president of the United States, these certified results from Florida's 67 counties for the top two candidates are as follows: Gov. George Bush, 2,910,492. Vice President Al Gore, 2,910,192."

Harris added that three Democrat-dominated counties still involved in manual vote recounts must explain in writing by 2 p.m. Wednesday why their votes did not arrive by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

"Unless I determine in the exercise of my discretion that these ... written statements justify an amendment to today's offical returns," she said, the State Elections Canvassing Commission will certify the results as final, pending only the counting Saturday of overseas absentee ballots that must have been postmarked by Election Day and received by Friday.

The extent of Harris' discretion to ignore or include hand-counted totals arriving after the 5 p.m. Tuesday was the focus of a daylong battle that raced from courtroom to courtroom across Florida. At stake are the state's 25 electoral votes and very likely the outcome of the national election.

The potential Electoral College vote stood nationally at 255 for Gore to 246 for Bush.

In addition to Florida, the winner remained uncertain in Oregon and New Mexico - where an apparent counting error discovered overnight unofficially to shift the state back to Gore's column by a few hundred votes.

Gore's margins of under 10,000 votes in Wisconsin and Iowa made them targets of possible recount requests from the Bush campaign if the battle expands from Florida.

Harris's statement ended a day of complex and even contradictory rulings that gave both sides hope that their campaign could still win the endgame of a race that now is a full week past the expected Nov. 7 finish line.

Earlier Tuesday, in a decision that both sides interpreted as at least a partial victory, Tallahassee Circuit Judge Terry Lewis Tuesday upheld a 5 p.m. EST deadline to certify votes in Florida's presidential election, but he also ordered Harris not to ignore out-of-hand any manually counted ballots reported past that deadline.

Officials in Democrat-dominated Volusia County immediately filed an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. Florida Democrats, although saying they were pleased with the overall decision, said they would participate.

In another court ruling Tuesday, a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge declared that the county canvassing board may commence a manual recount of all of the county's ballots but that it remained up to the Florida secretary of state whether or not to accept them. The Palm Beach Elections Board voted to start a hand recount Wednesday at 7 a.m.

The key ruling from the Tallahassee judge left the final disposition of hand-counted ballots uncertain but kept alive the prospect that they might be included in any final state total.

"I find the county canvassing board must certify and file what election returns they have by the statutory deadlines of 5 p.m. Nov. 14, 2000," Lewis said.

But he said the counties could file results after the deadline and the state elections office would have to consider them.

"With due notification to secretary of state, any pending manual recount may thereafter may be filed in supplemental or corrective returns," Lewis wrote.

"The secretary of state may ignore such late filings returns but not do so arbitrarily, rather only by the proper exercise of discretion after consideration all appropriate facts and circumstance."

In effect, Lewis was indicating that he could make the final call on whether any hand counts turned in after the 5 p.m. deadline are to be counted, and that Harris could not arbitrarily refuse to count any ballots turned in after the deadline. And the judge said he was retaining jurisdiction in the case.

Former Democrat Secretary of State Warren Christopher said he was pleased with the results.

"The court said she (Harris) must be prepared to accept votes brought in after the deadline. We call on the counties to go ahead with their hand counts under this decision," Christopher said.

"We expect her to do the right thing."

"The secretary is pleased with the decision by Judge Lewis today but not surprised," said Donna Blanton, an attorney for Harris, a Republican and the state co-chairman of the Bush campaign.

"As Judge Lewis indicated in his opinion, if any canvassing board subsequently desires to amend the return, the secretary will evaluate that request on applicable facts and circumstances."

Earlier in the day, Republican ex-Secretary of State James Baker offered a proposal for a compromise that was promptly rejected by the Democrats and overtaken by events. Baker said the Bush campaign would accept the manual recounts that have been completed if the Democrats would accept the 5 p.m. EST deadline for certification.

"We make the following proposal to the Gore campaign," Baker said: "Both sides should accept the date at 5 p.m. and both sides should accept the absentee ballots. We are willing to accept the recount up to that deadline if the Democrats will accept that deadline.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to bring this to a close, and we hope to do that with this proposal," Baker said.

The Gore campaign said the proposal was identical to a ruling Monday by Harris, a Republican who campaigned for Bush.

"It was really just a reiteration of what the secretary of state laid out yesterday. In my opinion it was an inaccurate description of the laws of Florida," said William Daley, Gore's campaign manager.

Separately, the Bush campaign asked the federal appeals court in Atlanta to overturn a federal judge's refusal Monday to stop the hand-counting of ballots.

With the outcome in Florida uncertain, Bush's razor-thin lead in New Mexico was thrown into doubt late Monday when election officials said they had discovered that 500 votes that were meant to go to Gore had not been counted correctly. Bush's lead was put at 315 by VNS, but both parties acknowledged that the new Gore votes could tip the state back to the Democrats.

Gore leads by 6,099 votes in Wisconsin, where Republicans are studying reports of voting irregularities in Milwaukee. He leads by 5,121 votes in Iowa.

Gore leads by 5,756 in Oregon with 99 percent of votes counted. Oregon Republicans Monday asked the Democrat secretary of state to bow out of the election process, claiming he was too close to the Gore campaign.

In the only unresolved race for U.S. Senate, figures from Washington state showed incumbent Republican Slade Gorton continuing to hold a 5,419-vote lead over Democrat Maria Cantwell. A Cantwell victory would split the Senate 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

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Capping a day of political maneuvering and judicial rulings, Harris took the stage to say that in the race for president of the United States, these certified results from Florida's 67 counties for the top two candidates are as follows: Gov. George Bush, 2,910,492. Vice...
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Tuesday, 14 November 2000 12:00 AM
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