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Florida election returns blocked until Monday

State Supremes save Gore's bacon

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The long-expected certification of a winner in Florida's presidential race will not be enacted this weekend, as the state's Supreme Court ruled unanimously late Friday that Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris may not announce a winner as she had been straining to do, "until further notice."

Harris had fervently hoped to certify Bush on Saturday, using calculations based on the initial machine re-counts and any absentee ballots received by Midnight Friday, and excluding the results of all manual re-counts.

The Justices ordered her to make no such certification; further ordered that the controversial hand re-counts continue; and scheduled a hearing for Monday afternoon at which time both camps will argue their cases before the bench.

"In order to maintain the status quo, the Court, on its own motion, enjoins the Respondent, Secretary of State and Respondent, the Elections Canvassing Commission, from certifying the results of the November 7, 2000 presidential election, until further notice of this Court. It is NOT the intent of this Order to stop the counting and conveying to the Secretary of State the results of absentee ballots or any other ballots," the decision reads.

The afternoon ruling set aside one delivered earlier on Friday, in which the Bush campaign had won affirmation that Harris need not accept re-counted returns submitted after the deadline she announced for last Tuesday.

County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, a Democrat, had issued a brief ruling, later read aloud to reporters by a clerk. "It appears that the secretary has exercised her reasoned judgment to determine what relevant factors and criteria should be considered, applied them to the facts and circumstances pertinent to the individual counties involved, and made her decision," the Judge had written.

All had appeared in readiness for Harris to deliver the coup de grace to Gore on Saturday, once the absentee ballot returns were completed. The Bush camp was elated by the news, but has since turned mysteriously silent in light of the Supreme Court's later, contradictory action.

Vice President Gore, on the other hand, was immensely more forthcoming. "Neither Governor Bush nor the Florida Secretary of State nor I will be the arbiter of this election," the Veep said with obvious satisfaction during a brief press conference in Washington late Friday. "This election is a matter that must be decided by the will of the people as expressed under the rule of law."

Gore also bumped the rhetoric up a notch, making a clear reference to his Republican opponents as 'obstructing' Florida's proper discharge of electoral responsibilities.

"The citizens of Florida surely want the candidate who received the most votes....to be determined the winner of that state. That's why I'm very pleased that the hand counts are continuing. They're proceeding despite efforts to obstruct them," he said.

Meanwhile, in a second legal setback for the Bush camp also on Friday, a federal appellate court in Tallahassee denied Dubya's request to end the manual re-counts throughout Florida.

The Eleventh US Circuit Court of Appeals noted that states have broad latitude in setting election laws and refused to involve itself. "States have the primary authority to determine the manner of appointing presidential electors and to resolve most controversies concerning the appointment of electors," the Court wrote.

Bush had sued for an 'emergency' injunction to stop the re-counts on Constitutional grounds, arguing that they discriminate for and against voters on the basis of where they live.

With that, Florida's counties were free to re-count all the ballots they please to do by hand, though the question of whether or not Harris will be forced to accept the results remains undecided, at least until Monday. There are significant inconsistencies within the Florida election statutes which have enabled both sides in the contest to claim rights and privileges which are far from evident.

Thus far the Miami-Dade County Elections Commission has reversed itself and voted Friday to do a hand recount of the 654,000 ballots in its possession.

Broward County's manual re-count of 588,000 ballots continued Friday after it also reversed itself and decided on Wednesday to begin the chore on its entire lot of 587,928 ballots in defiance of Harris' declaration that she would not accept any updated returns.

Palm Beach County resumed hand-counting its 462,350 ballots after workers knocked off for the night shortly before three o'clock a.m. and resumed the drudgery at eight o'clock Friday.

For election briefs elsewhere: in Oregon Gore won by 6,795 votes out of roughly 1.5 million cast; in New Mexico Gore won by 481 votes out of nearly 600,000 cast; and in Wisconsin Gore won by 5,697 votes out of nearly 2.6 million cast, for three incredibly close shaves. ®

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