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With Florida court action reaching critical mass, a compromise may be in works


TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Presidential vote recounts in some Florida counties were tangled in a bevy of court suits and state rulings Tuesday, with a 5 p.m. deadline looming for statewide vote certification. The Bush and Gore campaigns floated possible out-of-court compromise plans to determine who will be the nation's 43rd president.

A court suit supported by Democrat Al Gore's campaign and opposed by that of Republican George W. Bush sought to extend that deadline for voter certification, while the state official who refused to budge on that issue, GOP Secretary of State Katherine Harris, prevented two other counties from starting manual recounts.

The Gore campaign let it be known it was considering a proposal calling for both camps to agree to a statewide manual recount while halting all legal proceedings.

Complaint from Volusia County Canvassing Board challenging November 14 deadline for election certification - McDermott v. Harris - November 13, 2000 (FindLaw)(PDF format)

Judge Middlebrooks' ruling denying injunction sought by Bush campaign

Federal complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief filed by the George W. Bush campaign (FindLaw) (PDF format)

State court complaint seeking a new election in Palm Beach County, Fladell v. Palm Beach (FindLaw)

Palm Beach County voters' class action civil rights complaint, Horowitz v. Lepore (FindLaw) (PDF format)

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But whether the campaign proceeds with that strategy depended on the outcome of a court ruling Tuesday on extending the voter certification deadline, campaign sources said.

Former Secretary of State James Baker responded to the suggestion of a possible compromise with a direct appeal to the Gore campaign that both camps accept the county votes reported to the Florida Secretary of State by 5 p.m. Tuesday -- and drop all court actions. Both camps would then accept the counting of overseas absentee ballots reported by midnight Friday.

"A manual recount of the whole state of Florida is crazy," said Baker, countering that the Bush proposal was a "serious one" aimed at gaining "finality."

In the latest developments on the legal front:

• The Palm Beach County Canvassing Board headed to court after Harris, co-chairwoman of Bush Florida campaign, issued an advisory opinion that the county could not hand recount its votes unless its "vote tabulation system" -- the counting machines -- had malfunctioned.

• Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat and Vice President Al Gore's Florida campaign chairman, ruled Harris was in error. That sent the canvassing board to court to find out who is right.

• The Bush campaign, which has protested the manual recount from the start, applauded the Palm Beach canvassing board for "doing due diligence."

• A circuit court judge in Leon County said he would rule whether or not Florida counties must certify their election results by a 5 p.m. deadline. The ruling had been expected Tuesday morning but was put off by the judge until later in the day. No matter which way the judge rules, an immediate appeal was anticipated.

• A Broward County circuit court judge granted an emergency hearing to attorneys for the Broward County Democratic Party who are seeking to force the county's canvassing board to manually recount ballots from the presidential election. That board had stopped after Harris' ruled it could not proceed unless its machines had malfunctioned.

• The Florida Democratic Party filed suit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in a bid to force the county's canvassing board to count dimpled ballots, which are ballots with a slight indention, where the chad were not punched through completely.

• A Palm Beach County judge, Catherine Brunson, said Tuesday she was recusing herself from hearing a growing number of voter lawsuits filed over Palm Beach County's ballot. Brunson said an attorney for Vice President Al Gore had recently represented her husband.

• A hearing had been scheduled for the afternoon on at least seven suits which challenge the legality of the county's "butterfly" ballot, criticized as illegally so confusing it caused them to vote for the wrong presidential candidate.

• Harris said Monday that votes must be certified to her office by 5 p.m. on Tuesday. She said Florida law requires that returns not certified by that time -- with the exception of overseas absentee ballots -- "shall be ignored."

But election officials in Volusia and Palm Beach Counties and the Gore campaign argued that the counties should have as much time as they need to complete a hand recount.

Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he would issue a ruling allowing Harris' decision to stand or extending the deadline. During a hearing Monday, Lewis asked numerous questions about absentee ballots. Under Florida law, overseas absentee ballots which are postmarked November 7 or signed and dated November 7 must be counted if they arrive by November 17.

Each side promised to appeal if they lose.

In Palm Beach and Broward Counties, Harris effectively shut down attempt to conduct manual recount the votes there when her office issued a ruling that "a counting error" means that a machine fails to read a properly marked ballot.

Butterworth countered that Harris' office had confused the "vote tabulation" with the "vote tabulation system" in a way the legislature never intended.

Butterworth said Florida law authorizes a manual recount when "a sampling manual recount indicates an error in vote tabulation which could affect the outcome of the election ...."

In Fort Lauderdale, the Broward County Canvassing Board voted 2-to-1 not to hand recount ballots in the heavily Democratic county.

The board cited a ruling by Harris' office that hand recounts may only be conducted if there is evidence of voting machine failure.

But Charles Lichtman, an attorney for the Broward Democratic Party, said he will argue that Harris' ruling is in error and isn't binding on the canvassing board.

In Volusia, one of four counties where Democrats asked for a hand recount, officials said they would still need an extension in order to count their votes.

An Associated Press tally of results from 67 Florida counties showed that Bush lead Gore by 388 votes.

Whoever wins Florida's 25 electoral votes in all likelihood will win the presidency.

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Florida Attorney General Web site
Florida law: Electors and elections
Florida law: Conducting elections and ascertaining the results

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