New York Times
November 18, 2000


A Day of Twists and Turns in the Courts


As in Day 10, most of the action in Day 11 of the presidential election yesterday focused on the face- off in the courts. Here are the day's highlights.

The Florida Supreme Court barred Florida's secretary of state from certifying official election results today but allowed the continued processing of overseas ballots and hand ballot recounts.

That was a change of course on a day that began with a ruling by Judge Terry P. Lewis of Leon County Circuit Court that would have allowed the Republican secretary of state, Katherine Harris, to declare an official winner without hand ballot recounts. That decision cheered the camp of Gov. George W. Bush.

Vice President Al Gore's campaign filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court but did not expressly ask for an order to block Ms. Harris's planned certification. The court later did so on its own, as it said in a statement, "to maintain the status quo."

Election officials in other states expressed surprise at Florida's deadline, even as questions were being raised over ballot irregularities. New York does not have to certify its election until early next month, California's deadline is Dec. 5 and Ohio's is Dec. 8. "I am just confounded by this Florida election law, " said Conny B. McCormack, the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder.

The counting of at least 2,000 overseas ballots was also turbulent, with some county officials expressing confusion over the secretary of state's instructions that overseas ballots did not have to be postmarked by Election Day as long as they were signed and dated by Election Day. A few county officials accepted ballots that were postmarked after Election Day.

The frantic rulings by Florida's lower courts awaited more definitive rulings by the state's highest court perhaps as early as Monday. Some legal experts contended that Florida's seemingly contradictory rulings may not be contradictory at all. "The secretary of state has the administrative authority over when to certify a winner," said Samuel Issacharoff, an election law specialist at Columbia Law School. "She has no authority over how the counties decide to evaluate the ballots."

Palm Beach and Broward Counties continued with their hand recounts of ballots and Miami-Dade County decided to start its own. By evening, only 32,000 of more than 462,000 Palm Beach ballots had been recounted, in part because of challenges by both Republicans and Democrats involved in the count. Miami-Dade County's canvassing board voted to recount the ballots in the state's most populous county.

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