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.
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
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.