- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A sharply divided Florida Supreme Court ordered manual recounts to begin immediately today in the state's contested presidential election, breathing new life into Al Gore's quest for the White House. George W. Bush moved swiftly to appeal the ruling in the federal courts.

Within an hour of the 4-3 ruling, officials in both the Gore and Bush campaigns said they were dispatching dozens of aides to protect their interests in recounts that could cover as many as 45,000 ballots in dozens of Florida counties.

"Because time is of the essence, the recount shall commence immediately," the court's spokesman, Craig Waters, said in summarizing the split opinion. By its ruling, the court also added 383 votes to Mr. Gore's total from recounts already undertaken, apparently whittling Mr. Bush's previous 537-vote margin to 154 votes.

The court ruled as the Republican-controlled Legislature met in special session, ready to assure that Mr. Bush got the state's disputed 25 electoral votes regardless of the outcome of various court cases that proliferated in the nation's unprecedented presidential election adventure.

Mr. Gore's aides were quick to say they believed that would happen when the recount was complete.

But the state's justices ordered a far broader recount than Mr. Gore had sought, saying that so-called undervotes — meaning ballots on which there was no vote for president — must be recounted in all 67 Florida counties "where such a recount has not yet occurred."

Recounts were completed earlier in Volusia and Broward counties, and the results incorporated into the results that Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified. A partial recount was completed in Miami-Dade County before the local canvassing board suspended its work. In addition, the Palm Beach County canvassing board completed a recount, but submitted the results after the deadline that Harris had been enforcing.

While the court ordered the recount to begin immediately, it was not immediately clear where or how that would happen.

Mr. Waters, relaying the court's opinion, said the votes were to be counted using the following standard:

"In tabulating what constitutes a legal vote, the standard to be used is the one provided by the legislature. A vote shall be counted where there is a clear indication of the intent of the voter."

"The Legislature is convened for the sole and exclusive purpose" of making sure the state's electoral votes count when the Electoral College meets on Dec. 18, read John Phelps, the clerk of the House, speaking before a packed chamber and a nationwide television audience. The legislation itself listed the electors by name — the ones picked by Mr. Bush when GOP Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified him the statewide winner last month by 537 votes.

Depending on the outcome of any recounts, the legislation could set up a contest between two rival Florida slates when the Electoral College votes are cast next week and then counted in Congress on Jan. 6. That, in turn, could ratchet up the controversy even further in the contest to pick a president.

"Two strikes, two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and Gore gets a hit," exulted Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of the Democrats who had said in advance that an adverse ruling could spell the end of the vice president's hopes.

"We're obviously thrilled and ready to do whatever we can to facilitate a quick and accurate count," said Mr. Gore's spokesman, Doug Hattaway.



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