Bush urges Gore to accept defeat after recount result

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The Independent US

George W Bush's camp has urged Al Gore to accept the unofficial Florida recount result and withdraw his threat of legal action over the ballot.

George W Bush's camp has urged Al Gore to accept the unofficial Florida recount result and withdraw his threat of legal action over the ballot.

Bush finished just 327 votes ahead, but says it is proof he won the election.

Gore has yet to respond and the official result from the state governed by Bush's brother - which will decide this suspense-filled presidential race - still faces legal and political challenges that could delay the outcome for weeks.

Official figures from the recount, covering only 53 of the state's 67 counties, give Bush a lead of 1,781 votes. out of a total cast of almost six million.

But the Associated Press, basing its figures on reports sent from all the counties to Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, says the Bush lead across the entire state is just 327 votes, excluding postal votes.

The unofficial recount tally was obtained by surveying each county election officer to get exact recount totals they reported to state officials.

Ms Harris, Florida's top election official, said it could take until Tuesday to confirm the recount totals. Thousands of ballots from overseas voters gained new importance and may not all be counted until November 17 - 10 days after the election.

Democrats threw the presidential election to the courts claiming "an injustice unparalleled in our history."

The Bush campaign threatened to challenge results in two other big states Gore won by a few thousand votes.

Gore led by just over 200,000 votes in the nationwide vote by 100 million Americans. But under the complex Electoral College system used in presidential elections, only Florida's vote counted because it would give either candidate a majority of the 538 electoral votes allotted to the states.

The state's governor, Bush brother Jeb, disqualified himself from the commission that will declare the election winner and, thus, the next president. He was replaced by an official who supported him in the last gubernatorial election.

"The presidential election is ... on hold," said James A. Baker III, the secretary of state in the Bush's father's administration, who was brought in to protect the Texas governor's interests. Former Democratic Secretary of State Warren Christopher represented Gore.

Gore wants a follow-up recount in four Florida counties and perhaps a new election in the Palm Beach area, where Democrats said the ballot was confusing and more than 19,000 were thrown out. The Bush camp said the challenge amounted to "politicising and distorting" the electoral system.

Yet, the Bush campaign was considering calling for recounts in Wisconsin, Iowa and possibly other states where Bush lost narrowly.

The change in vote totals represented errors in the count on both sides as well as absentee ballots that have come in since election day.

The official total lagged behind the AP tally, and Secretary of State Katherine Harris said it could as late as Tuesday - a week after the election - before the state certifies ballot results from all counties.

She said officials have until 10 days after the election to receive ballots cast by Floridians living overseas, as long as they are postmarked by election day. "Nobody ever said that democracy was simple or efficient," said election board member Bob Crawford.

With votes still dribbling in from across the country, Gore's lead in the popular vote was shrinking. With a few precincts still unreported Gore had 49,113,600 votes and Bush had 48,906,647.

It is the tightest election since 1960, when John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by 118,574 votes.

Amid a campaign-style flurry of charges and countercharges, Gore campaign chairman William Daley said his party will support legal actions by voters who say the confusing ballot may have led them to vote accidentally for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

"We're raising some very serious questions and legal actions will be taken," Daley said.

The Bush campaign fired back, claiming a legitimate victory in Florida and the nation.

"One of the options that they seem to be looking at is new elections. Our democratic process calls for a vote on Election Day, it does not call for us to continue voting until someone likes the outcome," Bush campaign chairman Don Evans said in Austin, Texas.

As the drama unfolded in Florida, Attorney General Janet Reno said in Washington she saw no reason for federal authorities to "jump in" to the controversy. The former Miami prosecutor said she would review any complaints brought to her. "We are not here to generate controversy," she said.

The winner of Florida stood to gain the state's 25 electoral votes - and the keys to the White House, unless Bush's team makes good on the threat to contest Gore victories.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the Florida-vote challenge poses incredible risk for both candidates, because an evenly divided electorate will soon tire of the political suspense and begin looking for somebody to blame.

"This is serious stuff; it's time to cool partisan passions or risk being damaged goods, even if you win the presidency," said Democratic consultant Jim Duffy.

Bush's camp portrayed Gore as a poor loser who wants to overturn election-night returns that gave Bush the edge in Florida; Gore's camp accused Republicans of selfishly ignoring ballot irregularities and attempting to scare Americans with talk of a constitutional crisis.

Eight lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts to challenge the Florida results, including six in Palm Beach County and two in Tallahassee. One of the federal cases was withdrawn by the voter who filed.

The Tallahassee cases alleged race discrimination, and Palm Beach County voters sought a new election because they said the ballot was too confusing. Thousands of ballots were not counted because they were punched twice. Democrats say Gore backers voted for Buchanan - then voted for Gore after realising their mistake.

Both candidates were working simultaneously to prepare their transitions to power and fight the ballot dispute. Democrats were trying to raise $3m to finance Gore's challenge.