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Palm Beach County misses deadline for recount

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- The Palm Beach County Canvassing Board finished counting presidential ballots by hand shortly after 7 p.m. EST Sunday, despite missing a court-imposed 5 p.m. deadline, adding another question mark to the ongoing controversy over the election in Florida.

Judge Charles Burton, the canvassing board chairman, announced about 4:30 p.m. EST that the recount had been suspended. "We believe there are approximately 800 to 1,000 ballots left to count," he said.

The county temporarily stopped its hand recount in advance of the court-mandated deadline to finish the recount and get results to state officials, then started it again later in the evening. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris turned down a request Sunday for an extension of the deadline, saying a Florida Supreme Court ruling last week did not give her that option.

Last week, that court ordered Harris to accept results of hand recounts in Florida counties. The court gave Harris two options: Open her office Sunday and accept results until 5 p.m. EST, or leave her office closed over the weekend and accept results received before 9 a.m. EST Monday. Harris chose the first option.

"We have been working this last week, trying to make sure we meet the deadline that has been set down by the Supreme Court," Burton said earlier Sunday.

By 5 p.m., "We're going to send them (the Secretary of State's office) what we have, but hopefully we're going to make the deadline," he said.

The developments came on a day when supporters of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore took to the Sunday talk shows to critique the ongoing count, as teams of lawyers prepared to press and defend a host of legal challenges.

If the final ballots have not been counted by the deadline, Burton said, the board could certify a partial result. But that view was challenged by Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, a Republican, on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"If there is not a full and complete recount, there is certainly a very, very serious concern about whether or not compliance with Florida law has been achieved," Racicot said.

In Broward County, canvassing board members and counters finally got a chance to relax Sunday, after completing their count just before midnight Saturday. Gore picked up a net gain of 567 votes at the end of the 11-day hand recount there.

Both sides plowed ahead on the legal front, including preparations for a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Florida law gives each side 10 days to contest the results of the election.

"Whether or not she makes any pronouncement tonight is not really relevant," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, on "Meet the Press." "What's relevant is what's going to happen over the course of the next several days in the court, perhaps even still with the counting that will be going on."

Oral arguments will be heard in the nation's highest court next Friday about whether to overturn the Florida Supreme Court decision allowing the hand recounts of the state's presidential election ballots.

Both the Bush and Gore campaigns have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to file initial briefs in the case with the high court. Reply briefs, if any, must be filed by 4 p.m. Thursday.

Bush withdrew a lawsuit Saturday afternoon filed in Leon County intended to force a dozen counties to include overseas absentee ballots -- many of them from military voters, who tend to skew Republican -- that had been rejected for not having a postmark or not being properly signed and dated.

Saturday evening, the Bush campaign announced it had filed individual suits in Hillsborough, Okaloosa, Pasco and Polk counties instead. A suit will be filed in Orange County on Sunday to get all signed military overseas ballots counted, said Mindy Tucker, Bush campaign press secretary.

Lawyers for the Gore campaign have said they will go to court Monday to contest results from Miami-Dade County and Nassau County, and possibly against the returns from Palm Beach County, where Democrats contend a "butterfly" ballot confused voters into selecting Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Gore.

A partial hand recount in Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county, had turned up about 150 additional votes for Gore when the canvassing board stopped Wednesday, saying it believed the deadline imposed by the Florida Supreme Court was too short.

"They're saying they may not even certify those votes," said David Boies, lead attorney for the Gore team. "That would clearly be contrary to Florida law."

Boies accused Republican demonstrators of having intimidated the board into stopping the count, a charge the Republicans deny. GOP representatives have said the results from machine tallies should stand.

If partial returns are submitted, Florida's secretary of state would have to seek legal advice about what to do, said Ben McKay, Harris' chief of staff.

McKay said Harris would certify the results no earlier than 6 p.m. EST Sunday and could delay that action for several days. "It's not right to say it's going to happen or likely to happen tonight," he said.

The candidates continued to keep low profiles. The Texas governor was in Austin, Texas, where he attended church services in the morning, and Gore was in Washington, where he also attended church with members of his family.


Sunday, November 26, 2000



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