- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

MIAMI Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris said yesterday she will adhere to the state law requiring all 67 counties to submit certified vote totals by 5 p.m. today as Gore operatives battled in court to extend the deadline.

"The process of counting and recounting the votes cast on Election Day must end," Miss Harris said.

According to state law which requires certified results "by 5 p.m. of the seventh day following an election" the deadline can only be extended in the event of natural disasters.

"A close election, regardless of the identity of the candidate, is not such a circumstance."

Counties that don't certify their vote by the deadline "shall be ignored," the law says.

Vice President Al Gore, who unofficially trails Gov. George W. Bush by 388 votes after all counties conducted mandatory recounts, immediately appealed the ruling, making his first major legal push.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis who heard arguments yesterday from Gore lawyers and representatives of two counties seeking to push back the deadline said he will rule whether to uphold or dismiss the deadline before noon today.

Judge Lewis was appointed two years ago by Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat.

Mr. Gore, responding to Miss Harris' decision to adhere to state law, said "while time is important, it is even more important that every vote is counted and counted accurately."

"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. So having enough patience to spend the days necessary to hear exactly what the American people have said is really the most important thing," Mr. Gore said in a brief statement at the White House.

Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said the vice president's message has taken a 180-degree turn.

"All week the vice president and his campaign have said that Florida's laws should be followed… . The vice president now wants to waive that law, so Democrat officials in Democrat precincts can try to overturn the results of this election; results which were confirmed not just by one, but by two fair and accurate counts," Mrs. Hughes said.

"We are increasingly convinced that the manual recount which is now under way in selective, heavily Democratic, hand-selected counties, cannot produce that fair and accurate result."

Late last night, Broward County completed a recount of 1 percent of its precincts. The new tally increased Mr. Gore's take by four votes. But the election board there voted 2-1 against conducting a recount in all precincts, saying there was no proof that either of its two counts already completed were flawed.

Democrats immediately vowed to go to local court to overturn the decision, alleging Broward County officials relied on erroneous advice from Miss Harris' office.

Earlier in the day, a federal judge appointed to the bench by President Clinton denied Mr. Bush's request to halt manual recounts in four Florida counties some of which have already been counted as many as three times.

"A federal court has a very limited role and should not intervene… . The elections procedures employed by Florida are neutral," U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks said.

The three-hour hearing included presentations from attorneys from four counties where Democrats want votes retabulated, all of which are either in the process of or currently conducting manual recounts.

Ted Olson, representing the Republican Party, argued that a hand count would leave the results of the presidential election open to tainting and the subjectivity of elections employees in largely Democratic counties.

"The process, to sum it up, is selective, standardless, subjective, unreliable and inherently biased," said Mr. Olson, an assistant attorney general in President Reagan's administration.

"Machines do not care who wins this election. The human process, especially when it is triggered by partisan parties, may care."

Bruce Rogow, counsel for Palm Beach County Election Supervisor Theresa LePore, said the hand count was for better or worse democracy in action.

"Is it messy? Does it go on and on in some fashion? Yes, yes it does, but that is democracy," he told the judge.

Several Palm Beach County residents hired famous defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz to represent them in a suit against the county, asserting that they lost their right to vote by a system plagued with errors.

"My clients will not be satisfied unless there is a recount," he said flatly, during his 10-minute argument.

Republicans did not immediately say whether they will appeal the decision but are expected to make a decision on appealing the federal judge's ruling today.

Two options under consideration are appealing to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta or making an emergency appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a Republican source familiar with the Bush campaign's legal strategy.

The day's legal clashes put the unresolved Nov. 7 election before state and federal courts and increased the sense that judges will control the eventual outcome. Both sides have said they feared the election could get caught in a legal tit for tat, yet both campaigns put their names on lawsuits in recent days.

While Gore officials criticized the Bush campaign for filing suit in the federal court to halt the recounts, Gore operatives quickly joined a lawsuit seeking to extend the deadline.

Volusia County, which yesterday completed its hand count in all precincts, filed the suit requesting an extension to the 5 p.m. deadline today. Palm Beach County also joined the suit later in the day.

Republicans contend the hand count leaves the final tally in the hands of Democrats and the presidential quest of Mr. Gore, who has gained nearly 800 votes on three recounts in Palm Beach County alone.

The panels governing the election in all four counties Volusia, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward are dominated by Democrats.

Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, representing Mr. Gore, said Miss Harris' decision to adhere to the deadline smacked of politics.

"We regard the action of the secretary of state to be arbitrary and unreasonable. [The deadline] looks like a move in the direction of partisan politics and away from the nonpartisan" administration of election law.

But during yesterday's hearing before Judge Lewis on the deadline, Bush lawyer Barry Richard told the judge, "No candidate, no political committee, no voter, has a right to a manual recount at any time."

In the daily number jumble, Polk County figures showed a 100-vote gain for Mr. Bush from recount totals originally announced by the county this weekend. Despite the change Monday, Mr. Gore still gained a net of 29 votes in Polk County during recounts from his original election night total.

Volusia County officials announced Mr. Bush showed a net gain of 33 votes after a full day of recounts.

Miami-Dade County set a hearing for today to decide how to proceed with a recount.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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