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CNN International




Florida secretary of state rejects hand recount results

Democrats to fight decision in court

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Palm Beach County elections officials are expected to meet on Thursday to discuss a course of action after Florida's secretary of state refused to extend their deadline for certifying votes.

In this story:

Democrats: Decision 'rash and precipitous'

Harris co-chaired Bush's state campaign

Katherine Harris on Wednesday night denied the requests of three counties seeking to extend the certification deadline so they could conduct a manual recount of ballots cast in last week's election.

She also denied a request to amend the vote count from a fourth county in a request unrelated to the manual recount issue.

Democrats vowed to contest Harris' decision in court on Thursday morning.

Harris, acting in her role as the state's top election official, said the reasons cited by Broward, Collier, Dade and Palm Beach counties were insufficient to meet the criteria of state law. (More on Katherine Harris)

The four counties submitted letters to Harris on Wednesday afternoon, explaining why they believed changes should be made to their vote tallies before the state certifies the presidential ballot returns.

Collier's request -- citing 24 ballots "representing a cross section of voters" that had not been removed from their envelopes and counted -- was a surprise. Republican candidate George W. Bush ran strong in Collier, but Democrat Al Gore led in the other three counties.

Broward County, a Democratic stronghold, began a manual recount Wednesday afternoon and continued it even after Harris said she would not accept the new results.

Democrats: Decision 'rash and precipitous'

Denouncing Harris' decision as "a rash and precipitous action," William Daley, chairman of the Gore campaign, vowed to appeal it. Daley said the Gore side plans to go to court on Thursday to appeal the decision.

Lawyers are expected to return to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis in Leon County, Florida, who ruled Tuesday that Harris had the authority to ignore the adjusted returns, but could not do so in an arbitrary manner.

The plaintiffs might argue this time that Harris abused her discretion in rejecting all the reasons for recounting the ballots.

Harris said she expected to certify the final results of the election on Saturday after overseas absentee ballots are counted. In announcing receipt of election results on Tuesday, Harris' tally had Bush leading Gore by 300 votes.

Earlier Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court denied a request from Harris to stop the hand recounts. The justices also denied Harris' request to move all lawsuits regarding the election to state court in Leon County.

Both of Harris' requests were supported by the Bush campaign. A spokesman for the court said that by denying, rather than dismissing, Harris' request, the court left open her option to take up the issue in a lower court.

The Florida Supreme Court granted requests by Broward County, Bush, Gore and the Florida Democratic Executive Committee to intervene in the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board's petition seeking clarification on whether it can continue with the hand recount of ballots.

Harris and Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth had given conflicting opinions to the counties on the hand count issue. Butterworth is a Democrat and chairman of Gore's campaign in Florida. Harris, a Republican, co-chaired Bush's Florida campaign.

The Florida Supreme Court requested that Harris, Butterworth and any intervenors file written responses by 9 a.m. EST Thursday. Palm Beach County and any intervenors are asked to submit responses by noon Thursday.

In a sign of the political polarization caused by the election stalemate, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said Harris should recuse herself from recount-related issues. Dashchle told CNN the Florida secretary of state's strong public support for Bush damages her credibility.

"I wonder if it may not be time to recuse herself," Daschle, D-South Dakota, said in Washington. "Obviously, there's a perception problem here."

Harris co-chaired Bush's state campaign

Harris, 43, is a former real estate broker from Key West, Florida. She also is a staunch Republican who took time out from official duties last winter to campaign for Bush in New Hampshire, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Harris also served as co-chairwoman of Bush's Florida campaign and was a delegate to last summer's GOP national convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

She first took office January 1999 for a four-year term. Her position as secretary of state is due to be eliminated in January 2003 because of amendments to Florida's constitution.

In 1994, Harris ran for and won a seat in Florida's Senate, representing the Sarasota area.

Harris is reported to have a net worth of $6 million and comes from a powerful and wealthy Florida family, according to the Washington Post. Her grandfather, cattle and citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin, also served in Florida's legislature, the Post reported.


Thursday, November 16, 2000


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