Florida judge hits Gore with recount ruling

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The Independent US

A Florida judge ruled that the manual recount of votes must be completed by 10pm GMT, rejecting an application by Al Gore that the handcounts should be allowed to continue.

A Florida judge ruled that the manual recount of votes must be completed by 10pm GMT, rejecting an application by Al Gore that the handcounts should be allowed to continue.

It is expected that the argument between the parties will now go to the Florida Supreme Court for resolution.

The deadline had been set on Monday by the Florida Secretary of State, Kathryn Harris as the election of the 43rd President of the United States became mired in an ever more complicated mesh of legal cases.

The legal confusion deepened when the Florida judge added a rider, which allowed counties to continue manual counting although Ms Harris was under no obligation to accept the results of those recounts.

It also emerged that there could be demands for recounts in other states. Mr Bush's lead in New Mexico disappeared when officials in Dona Ana County found 500 votes that had not been counted for Mr Gore. That gave the Vice President a 374-vote lead in the state, which has five electoral votes.

There were also very close races in Oregon and Iowa

Earlier Mr Bush's campaign made a last minute bid to resolve the legal wrangles, offering to accept the results of manual recounts if Mr Gore would agree to halt counting at the 10pm GMT deadline set by state election officials.

It was immediately rejected by the Democrats. Mr Gore is thought to be trailing Mr Bush by around 390 votes in Florida with another recount underway in Miami-Dade county.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who made the offer on behalf of the Bush campaing asked: "When is it going to end? I ask you, when is it going to end?"

Earlier, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, representing Mr Gore, accused Ms Harris - a Bush activist - of a "move in the direction of partisan politics" by sticking with a deadline of 10pm GMT for certifying the county-by-county results.

The Gore campaign won a federal court ruling Monday that permitted hand recounts to continue in a few Democratic parts of the state.

But officials in Palm Beach County said they could not finish their hand count in time to meet the deadline.

The political and legal warfare over the votes cast by Florida, laced yesterday with accusations by the Gore camp that Bush was trying "to steal" the election, raged throughout the day with nothing to say how it will end and who will emerge as the 43rd President of the United States.

The Democrats said Ms Harris, being a Republican, was biased. Of the four counties likely to do manual recounts - Palm Beach, Volusia, Broward and Miami-Dade - only one, Volusia, expects to have the job done in time for that deadline.

"The law unambiguously states when the process of counting and recounting the votes cast on Election Day must end," said Ms Harris, an appointee of Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George. Her decision prompted the Gore camp formally to join its first lawsuit against the state, lodged by Volusia Country.

While confusion is high the stakes are even higher. The unofficial count in the state as of last night gave Mr Bush a lead of little more than three hundred votes. He may gain more when votes from Americans overseas are recorded this Friday. However, initial signs suggest that the hand counts in the four counties might yield enough votes for Mr Gore to give him victory.

The gravity of the day was acknowledged by Judge Middlebrooks, a Clinton appointee. He also conceded that his ruling on the permissibility of manual counts would go to appeal. "I am not under an illusion I am the last word on this, and I am rather grateful for that," he said. The judge was clear in rejecting the Republican request that he act to stop the counts.

Warren Christopher, representing the Gore campaign in Florida, meanwhile also condemned Ms Harris's decision. He suggested that she was biased because of her political affiliation and her association with Jeb Bush. He said the deadline-setting was a move "towards partisan politics" and had the "look of producing a particular result".

Meanwhile election officials in the south-western state of New Mexico said that the state was on course to complete its count by Friday on schedule. The state was originally called for Mr Gore, but the discovery of a lost ballot box and the count of absentee ballots gave Mr Bush a four-vote advantage.

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