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Published: Tuesday, 11/14/2000 - Updated: 1 year ago

State judge upholds deadline

BY DAVID ESPO
AP POLITICAL WRITER

A Florida state judge upheld the Tuesday deadline for certifying votes. The Gore campaign is expected to appeal the decision.

The judge, Terry Lewis, said counties can file supplemental or corrected returns after today's 5 p.m. deadline.

George W. Bush's campaign floated a compromise plan to bring an end to the contested presidential election on Tuesday, but a top aide to Al Gore swiftly brushed it aside. The two White House rivals sweated out the uncertainty of Florida court rulings and slow-moving hand recounts in the campaign that refused to die.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Republicans would agree to accept the results of any hand recounts completed by a 5 p.m. deadline set by the secretary of state if the Democrats would drop their insistence on prolonging the counts. At the same time, he envisioned the two sides agreeing to drop dueling lawsuits.

Otherwise, he said, "When is it going to end? I ask you, when is it going to end?"

But within an hour, Gore campaign chairman William Daley spoke dismissively of Baker's suggestion. "It truly was not a proposal. It was strictly, in my opinion, an inaccurate description of the laws of Florida,"he said at the Capitol, where he met with Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.

"I think we've got to not try to usurp the courts of Florida," he added.

The rejection swiveled the focus of the controversy to a state courtroom in Tallahassee, where Florida judge Terry Lewis prepared a ruling on a lawsuit challenging the 5 p.m. deadline for vote certification set by Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

But as important as that loomed, it was only one of a mushrooming series of events popping up around the state that stands to pick the next president. Bush held a 388-vote in an unofficial tally by the Associated Press, although the vote totals will change with the recounts as well as with the tally of overseas absentee ballots set for Friday night.

Florida offers 25 electoral vote and the candidate who wins them stands to become the nation's 43rd president after one of the closest elections in history.

Top state officials issued conflicting legal opinions. Lawsuits - and the threat of them - proliferated as the post-election campaign neared the end of its first week.

Baker said his offer also envisioned the state counting overseas absentee ballots as planned on Friday night - one of the few issues not embroiled in the Florida dispute.

Beyond that, his offer committed the Bush campaign to abandoning its opposition to the continuation of the hand recounts it has consistently sought to block - but only if the Gore campaign not seek to extend the recounting beyond a deadline set by the Florida secretary of state.

That represented at least a modest change in the Bush position, which had been that no recounts were proper.

"If you are suggesting that we take no risk by this proposal. I would argue with that rather strongly," Baker told one questioner. He noted that Bush's narrow 388-vote could yet evaporate by 5 p.m., and that either side could carry the overseas ballots.

Baker stepped to the microphones in the Florida Capitol shortly after officials in Volusia County said that despite efforts to wrap up a recount by 5 p.m., "we need an extension" that county lawyers were already seeking in court.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris has already said she won't grant one, and it was up to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to rule on whether to stay her hand and permit the counting to continue after the 5 p.m. deadline.

In Miami-Dade County, officials voted at midmorning to begin a manual recount of three precincts, a possible prelude to a countywide recanvass.

There was confusion in Palm Beach County, where local officials voted 2-1 to stop a hand recount.

In the presidential campaign that refused to die, local officials said they would ask the Florida Supreme Court to clarify which opinion they should follow - that of the Democratic attorney general or Republican election officials - on whether hand counts of ballots could continue.

A senior Gore strategist said the Palm Beach canvassing board's decision to delay the recount would be challenged immediately in Circuit Court, along with the Florida secretary of state's ruling on which the board's decision was based.

In Washington, Gore's campaign chairman, William Daley, journeyed to the Capitol to meet privately with Democratic congressional leaders.

The two candidates remained out of public view, Bush in Texas, Gore in Washington, while a phalanx of lawyers and spinmeisters did their bidding.

One week after the nation voted, neither presidential contender had an Electoral College majority, and both needed the 25 electoral votes offered by Florida to fashion one.

Bush held a 388-vote lead in an unofficial statewide recount tally by The Associated Press, not including the unknown number of overseas absentee ballots.

Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," on Tuesday, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher said talk of a statewide recount was "news to me." Still, he added, "If the suggestion was made ... it's certainly something we'd want to look at." Several other senior Gore strategists, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the idea has not been discussed internally.

And Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said, "This is not something under consideration."

The rhetorical exchanges had grown more barbed on Monday.

"The vice president essentially said we should ignore the law so that he can overturn the results of this election," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes asserted.

Representing Gore, Christopher said the chief elections official in Florida - a Bush activist - took an apparent "move in the direction of partisan politics" by sticking with the deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday for certifying the county-by-county results.

In the area around Fort Lauderdale, a check of a few precincts turned up only a few changes, and local officials voted 2-1 against the recount of all of Broward County that Gore had sought. The partial recount, covering 3,892 votes in three precincts, turned up four additional votes for Gore. Democrats planned an appeal. Miami-Dade County were deciding Tuesday whether to take the same step.

Gore went briefly before cameras outside the White House on Monday and attempted to strike a statesmanlike tone. "I would not want to win the presidency by a few votes cast in error or misinterpreted or not counted, and I don't think Governor Bush wants that either," he said.

The contested election played out in far-flung portions of the state on Monday.

  • County workers sifted through thousands of ballots in Volusia County, where a complete Gore-requested hand recount was in progress.

  • Officials in Miami-Dade County were considering whether to yield to a Gore campaign request and conduct a manual recount in their area.

  • Officials in Palm Beach County said workers would not be able to finish counting more than 400,000 ballots until Sunday, well past Secretary of State Katherine Harris' deadline. Separately, a hearing was set in state court in Palm Beach County on several citizen lawsuits seeking a new county vote - a position the Gore campaign once floated.

    Meanwhile, new polls suggested Americans were intensely interested in the struggle to settle the presidential election. A majority said they were not extremely worried about it.

    Two-thirds of Americans in an ABC News-Washington Post poll agreed with the statement that the struggle is "just the kind of thing that can happen in a very close election."

    U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks rejected a pleading from Bush's legal team to stop the hand counting. "A federal court has a very limited role and should not intervene," he ruled on Monday after hearing arguments.

    In an observation that underscored the historic nature of the case, he added, "I am not under an illusion I am the last word on this, and I am rather grateful for that." Republicans had not yet disclosed their next step.

    In a separate state courtroom in Tallahassee, Judge Terry Lewis heard arguments on a suit from officials in two counties that attempted to stop Harris from enforcing her 5 p.m. deadline for certification of vote totals.

    Lewis expressed doubts about the deadline, noting counties can continue counting absentee votes through the end of the week. "What's the good of doing a certification ahead of time?" the judge asked.



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