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Court rejects Gore challenge to Florida election results

Judge Sauls
Judge Sauls read his ruling Monday from the bench  

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- A Florida Court dealt a major blow Monday to Vice President Al Gore's legal efforts to challenge the results of Florida's presidential election.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls ruled that the evidence presented by Gore's legal team does not establish any gross negligence or fraud in the balloting process, or prove that alleged problems with the voting would have changed the outcome of the election.

Gore's attorneys immediately appealed Sauls' decision with a request that it be certified as a matter of great urgency and importance, "so that we can resolve once and for all what the right is for citizens to have their votes counted," said Gore attorney David Boies.

The appeal was passed from a state appeals court to the Florida Supreme Court Monday evening. Court spokesman Craig Waters said justices would take no action on the case before Tuesday.

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CNN's Gary Tuchman reports on the importance of the ruling from Judge N. Sanders Sauls (December 4)

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Gore campaign attorney Ron Klain defends contesting the results (December 4)

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CNN's Gary Tuchman reports on the court sessions in Florida (December 3)

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CNN's Brian Cabell reports on why in other parts of Tallahassee, people have other concerns

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Watch all up-to-the-minute video of Election 2000
graphic ALSO
  • Florida Senate leader undecided about electors session
  • U.S. Supreme Court mulls election question
  • Judge Sauls brings dose of wit to Florida election dispute
  • Senator who lost to dead candidate observes Florida trial
  • graphic GRETA@LAW
    Election analyst David Cardwell explains Florida's election contest procedure
    graphic DOCUMENTS
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    • Reviewing the Vote: The U.S. Supreme Court reviews the Florida election case
    • Who's Who: Court and lawyer profiles
    • Legalese: A layman's guide to the election case
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    Attorneys for Gore had asked Sauls to overturn the certified election results in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Nassau counties and order a manual recount of about 14,000 disputed ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Texas Gov. George W. Bush's legal team argued that election officials in the disputed counties acted properly and their certified results should stand.

    Sauls delayed releasing his decision so that he could study the U.S. Supreme Court opinion that vacated the Florida Supreme Court's 12-day extension of the deadline for certifying election results and asked for clarification.

    Attorneys for Bush and Gore presented their cases in a marathon weekend trial that lasted 22 hours and stretched over two days.

    Bush's attorneys called a number of witnesses Sunday including voters, vote-count observers, voting-machine experts and statisticians.

    One of the key witnesses was John Ahmann, a mechanical engineer who helped develop the Votomatic devices the Gore campaign blames for many of the dimpled chad they claim are uncounted votes. In the end, his testimony appeared to help Gore's attorneys.

    On direct examination, Ahmann testified that dimpled or pregnant chad do not necessarily indicate that a voter intends to vote for a candidate. He said the ballot could be flawed or that it could be nicked or dinged while its being handled.

    But on cross-examination he said that chad could build up in the machines if they are not cleaned regularly and make it harder to push the stylus through the ballots. He also said chad that are partially detached could flip open or closed as ballots are run though the counting machine. That could potentially lead to different vote counts in each machine count.

    He also testified that manual recounts should be used in close elections.

    Thomas Spencer, who witnessed the hand recount of ballots in Miami-Dade County, also testified that he saw different methods being used to determine whether a "dimple" on the punch card was considered a vote or not.

    Sauls then asked Spencer if that inconsistent judgment meant three different people might get three different results while counting.

    Spencer replied, "Absolutely."

    Gore lawyer David Boies told Sauls in his closing argument Sunday night that the vice president's lawsuit is a "protest action" against injustice.

    Democrats are convinced that hundreds of legitimate votes for Gore were missed during an automated counting process, Boies said.

    "There are ballots that the machine cannot read but from which voter intent can be discerned by manual review," Boies said.

    Richard said Florida law left recounts up to the discretion of the Florida secretary of state, and he said there was no evidence of abuse of that discretion.

    "There is no right by the federal or state constitution to manual recounts," he argued. "There is no law that says that you must count dimpled ballots, constitutional or otherwise."

    He also told Sauls that the burden of proof was on Gore and that "we are light years away from any carrying of that burden." Richard said the Democrats offered insufficient witnesses and evidence to prove their position regarding a constitutional right to recounts.

    Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

    Greta Van Susteren on the significance of the contested ballots hearing
    December 2, 2000
    Gore camp says time is running out for ballot recounts
    November 30, 2000
    Gore team asks Florida Supreme Court to speed recount
    November 29, 2000
    Bush, Harris urge end to Florida recount; Gore seeks uniform standard
    November 19, 2000

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