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Florida Supreme Court denies motion to stop manual ballot recounts


In this story:

The Tuesday deadline

Other legal questions before the court


TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to block hand recounts of some of the 6 million votes cast in the state's November 7 presidential election, rejecting a request from Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

The court also rejected Harris' request to move all lawsuits filed over the razor-thin presidential election to state court in Leon County, home to the state capital of Tallahassee.

graphic WHO'S WHO
Who's who in the election recount
Bush motion to intervene in Harris suit - Harris v. Circuit Judges, et. al (FindLaw) (PDF Format)

Motion to Consolidate and Expedite Review - Palm Beach County Canvassing Board v. Harris(FindLaw)(PDF Format)

Bush motion to intervene in PBCCB suit - Palm Beach County Canvassing Board v. Harris (FindLaw) (PDF Format)

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Harris filed an emergency petition earlier in the day with Florida's highest court. The supreme court's decision to reject the petition was 7-0 and the justices did not explain their reasoning.

Hand recounting has emerged as a key point of dispute between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. Bush leads by 300 votes. Gore's legal team wants the hand recounts to proceed, whereas Bush and Harris, a Republican, are opposed.

In her petition, Harris wrote, "If countywide manual recounts continue before this court decides whether such recounts are authorized and/or unconstitutional, the results will be broadcast to the nation, which will neither advance the process nor serve the interests of public policy."

Gore representative Warren Christopher said Wednesday the campaign does not support the halting of hand recounts, meaning the Gore camp can claim victory in the state supreme court.

"Let the counts continue ... with the understanding that the ultimate status will depend upon the decisions reached by the Florida Supreme Court we hope in a rapid and timely way," Christopher said.

Three South Florida counties were manually recounting the votes or considering such a move, and the Gore campaign pushed for Harris to consider those totals, too.

The Tuesday deadline

Harris on Tuesday certified nonabsentee ballots cast on November 7, showing Bush beating Gore by 300 votes among the nearly 6 million ballots cast.

The winner in Florida will receive the state's 25 electoral votes -- and occupy the White House on January 20.

Harris said this week she will stick to a state-law-imposed 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline to certify nonabsentee ballots and might reject recounted totals filed after then.

A state circuit judge upheld the deadline, but instructed Harris to use her discretion under Florida statutes in deciding whether to accept or reject recount totals filed after Tuesday.

Friday is the deadline for absentee ballots to be sent to the state from overseas, and a final certified tally of all votes cast in Florida -- barring legal delays -- is likely by this weekend.

Other legal questions before the court

In addition to deciding whether manual recounts can proceed, the court could resolve at least two other contentious issues -- whether and how Harris should justify why she accepts or rejects vote totals filed after Tuesday and whether Palm Beach County's "butterfly ballot" was legal, said Jon Mills, interim dean of the University of Florida law school.

Mills, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, said the court will likely accept Harris' petition because of the gravity of the situation: the presidency hinges on Florida's vote totals.

And he said partisan wrangling would not cloud the judgment of Florida's highest court.

"I don't think the Florida Supreme Court has ever been very political," Mills said. "It's a good court, it makes tough decisions and it has not been politicized." Correspondent Raju Chebium contributed to this report

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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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