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Nation awaits Supreme Court ruling on presidential election

The U.S. Supreme Court  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The day called for in federal law for certifying Florida's presidential electors arrived Tuesday, but that issue was on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court pondered whether to allow hand counts of votes in that state to resume.

Republican George W. Bush is asking the court to put an end to the counting, giving him Florida's 25 electoral votes, and making him the first president since 1888 to win the White House without winning the popular vote.

Democrat Al Gore is asking the court to allow the hand counts to resume, giving him the opportunity to overtake Bush, claim Florida's 25 electoral votes and win one of the closest presidential races in history.

Simultaneous audio and transcript of the hearing in Bush v. Gore
(Courtesy Northwestern's Oyez Project and FindLaw)
• Official court transcript of oral arguments in Bush v. Gore PDF | HTML
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Listen to the audio from the Supreme Court hearing (December 11)
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graphic IN-DEPTH
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Scenes of protest and patience as Supreme Court weighs Bush v. Gore
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Key events in the Gore election contest

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Read the Bush brief *

Read the Gore brief *

U.S. Supreme Court order granting a stay of recounts *

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* FindLaw documents requiring (Adobe Acrobat Reader)
graphic RESOURCE
How the U.S. Supreme Court voted on the recount stay
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Long lines form outside the U.S. Supreme Court (December 10)

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CNN's Charles Bierbauer reports on the showdown (December 10)

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CNN's Mike Boettcher reports on what may happen if the election is not settled by the courts (December 10)

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The justices gave no indication when they would rule, but a weary nation eagerly awaited word on whether the presidential dispute -- now in its fifth week -- finally would be settled.

The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature inched forward during its special session, with committees approving resolutions that would let the Legislature step in and name 25 electors for Bush.

The House passed the resolution Tuesday by a vote of 79-41. The Senate is scheduled to vote on Wednesday.

Under federal law, if electors are chosen by December 12, the state's results may not be challenged by Congress. If the electors are named after that date, they are subject to a congressional challenge. After midnight on December 12, a state legislature is also free under federal law to name the state's electors.

The Electoral College is due to vote December 18 to elect the president. That deadline clearly concerned the Supreme Court justices Monday, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist wondering if it would be possible to conduct a recount and exhaust all the inevitable appeals by that date.

Beyond that, two of the liberal justices -- David Souter and Stephen Breyer -- worked on whether the Supreme Court could tell a state court judge to ask the Florida secretary of state for a standard for recounting the votes and then proceed to count them.

Both justices homed in on whether a statewide fair standard could be set for counting the so-called "undervotes." Those are ballots which voting machines show have no vote for president.

Pressed on the issue, Ted Olson, Bush's attorney, said the standard must be that the ballot is "penetrated." Allowing indented or dimpled ballots, said Olson, "is no standard at all."

But Joe Klock, the attorney for Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, was even firmer in saying the courts should not try to set a standard.

"I don't think the Supreme Court of Florida, respectfully, or any other court can sit down and write the standards that are going to be applied," he said.

But Gore attorney David Boies argued there is a standard. Florida law says the county canvassing boards must determine the "clear intent of the voter." The only question said Boies, is whether that standard is too general.

He argued that canvassing boards should be allowed in good faith to count the ballots even though the criteria they might use would differ.

The issue is crucial because the Bush campaign wants the court to find that using different standards to count the votes is a federal issue because it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Such a finding would allow the high court to step in and end the recounts.

However, if the justices decide they can have the votes counted with a fair standard, they would likely send the controversy back to Florida, letting state officials, not the U.S. Supreme Court, determine who will be president.

In two rulings, the Florida Supreme Court had extended the reporting deadline for Florida returns to allow for manual recounts and ordered a statewide recount of undervotes. Monday, the Florida court issued a 6-1 opinion, reaffirming its initial decision, saying it based its extension of the reporting deadline on Florida law. The U.S. Supreme Court had vacated that ruling and sent it back, saying the state court may not rely on the Florida Constitution and asking the court to justify its actions.

Several justices, led by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, had said during Monday's U.S. Supreme Court session they were disturbed that the Florida court had not responded to the U.S. Supreme Court's remand.

In a second major ruling Friday, the Florida Supreme Court overruled a state court judge and ordered statewide recounts of the undervotes to begin.

On Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, issued a stay that halted the hand count of 42,909 undervotes.

Bush has a certified lead in Florida of 537 votes, but the Florida Supreme Court's ruling to count the undervotes included votes already counted in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, reducing Bush's uncertified lead to 193 votes.

U.S. Supreme Court presses Bush, Gore lawyers on jurisdiction, standards for hand recounts
December 11, 2000
U.S. Supreme Court focuses on federal issues, recount standards in presidential election case
December 11, 2000
U.S. Supreme Court hears Florida election case -- again
December 10, 2000
Scalia and Stevens clash over recount stay in Bush v. Gore
December 10, 2000
Possibility of Electoral College defections raised
December 10, 2000

Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of Florida

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