New York Times
November 15, 2000

Judge Approves Hand Recounts; New Deadline Set for Counties

By Todd Purdam

TALLAHASSEE, Fla -- The Florida secretary of state announced tonight that she would comply with a state judge's order to consider results of further recounts in the disputed presidential election, but she gave the three Democratic counties that are still moving ahead with time-consuming hand recounts a deadline of 2 p.m. Wednesday to explain their reasons in writing.

After eight days of deadlock, the decision by Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican, propelled the situation to a critical turn. Allies of Vice President Al Gore forged ahead with the hand recounts and possible further court challenges, but aides to Gov. George W. Bush of Texas claimed to see the end in sight.

At about 7:40 p.m., Ms. Harris appeared on national television to announce that with all 67 counties reporting by the legal deadline of 5 p.m., Mr. Bush led by 300 votes, or 2,910,492 to Mr. Gore's 2,910,192 votes, pending the counting of an unknown number of overseas absentee ballots due by midnight Friday. Her action followed a midday ruling by a state judge who upheld today's deadline for all counties to certify their votes, but said that later returns could also be considered.

"Unless I determine in the exercise of my discretion that these facts and circumstances contained within these written statements justify an amendment to today's officials returns, the state elections canvassing commission, in a manner consistent with its usual and normal practice, will certify statewide results reported to this office today," Ms. Harris said, taking no questions.

"Subsequently, the overseas ballots that are due by midnight Friday will also be certified and the final results of the election for president of the United States of America in the state of Florida will be announced," Ms. Harris said.

Both sides said they believed that the judge's ruling should soon settle the question of who will carry Florida's 25 electoral votes and win the White House.

Less than an hour after Ms. Harris's announcement, Mr. Gore's campaign chairman, William M. Daley, took to the airwaves to accuse Ms. Harris of trying to cut off the count in a way "not required by the court." He said it was "just another attempt to slow this down."

It was not clear just how much authority Ms. Harris has. While Ms. Harris said she was basing her position on the ruling today in the Leon County Circuit Court, Judge Terry P. Lewis said she had discretion on whether to include any recounts in the final tally. But the judge said that the local election boards had the authority to decide whether a manual recount should be done.

"There is nothing," Judge Lewis said, "to prevent the county canvassing boards from filing with the secretary of state further returns after completing a manual recount. It is then up to the secretary of state, as the chief election officer, to determine whether any such corrective or supplemental returns filed after 5 p.m. today are to be ignored."

Up and down the state, it was a day of just this sort of confusion, from Palm Beach County, where a local election board first suspended, then resumed a hand recount, to the courtrooms and corridors of the state capital here, where Republican officials in the secretary of state's office and the Democratic attorney general clashed sharply over interpretation of Florida election law.

Barely five minutes before the 5 o'clock deadline, the Democratic stronghold of Volusia County became the only county to complete a manual recount, one that awarded Mr. Gore a net gain of 98 votes. Election officials in Miami-Dade County, in a sample recount of 1 percent of precincts, determined that a full recount was not warranted. After a day of uncertainty caused by conflicting legal opinions, Palm Beach officials finally agreed to begin a full recount on Wednesday.

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