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Florida judge says secretary of state can reject hand ballot recounts

Terry Lewis
Leon County, Florida, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis listens to testimony during a hearing in his court in Tallahassee  

By Raju Chebium
CNN.com Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an apparent victory for GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush and his supporters, a state judge ruled Friday that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris used proper discretion in deciding that she would not accept manual vote recount totals filed after last Tuesday's deadline.

"On the limited evidence presented, it appears the secretary has exercised her reasoned judgement to determine what relevant factors and criteria should be considered," Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said in a decision read by a court official. "My order requires nothing more. The plaintiff's motion is denied."

Lawyers for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore asked Lewis on Thursday to rule that Harris, a Republican who actively campaigned for Bush, arbitrarily refused to accept hand recounts of Florida's presidential ballots in some counties despite Lewis' order to the contrary.

graphic WHO'S WHO
Who's who in the election recount
graphic  ALSO
Challenge to Florida's November 14 deadline for election certification McDermott v. Harris
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Gore's side also asked Lewis to nullify the Tuesday certification of the statewide ballot, allow counties to continue manual recounts and to ask Harris to hold off on final certification after counties submit recounts.

Rejecting the claims from Gore and other plaintiffs, Harris' lawyer argued that his client clearly articulated why manual recount totals were unacceptable, thus complying with the prior court order and state law.

A lawyer for Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush argued that Gore's side was asking Lewis to interfere with the administration of the election process, a job that belongs to the executive and legislative branches of Florida government.

The Gore campaign, joined by the canvassing boards of Volusia and Palm Beach counties and the Democratic Party of Florida, sued Harris and other state officials and Bush in Leon County Circuit Court.

Lewis was the same judge who ruled Tuesday that Harris was authorized under state law to enforce a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline to certify all of the 6 million votes cast in Florida on November 7.

But Lewis also said counties could submit manual vote recounts after the deadline, ordering Harris to "properly exercise her discretion" in deciding whether to accept or reject hand-counted ballot totals.

Harris gave counties until Wednesday afternoon to explain in writing why they could not complete counting votes by 5 p.m. Tuesday. She announced later Wednesday that she would not accept manual recounts. The Gore legal team announced in quick order it would sue Harris on Thursday.

Gore's lawyers and other plaintiffs filed a combined lawsuit, which marks the latest twist in the bitter political and legal battle to determine the winner of the presidential contest in Florida.

Whoever wins Florida's 25 electoral votes will likely win the presidency. Florida is set to announce the winner this weekend, after absentee ballots are counted, barring court orders postponing that timetable.

Harris said Tuesday the results show Bush beating Gore by 300 votes and the final outcome will be announced after absentee ballots, due Friday, are counted.



RELATED STORIES:
Judge rules Florida Secretary of State did not abuse her discretion in denying recount
November 16, 2000
Florida Supreme Court asked to wade into presidential contest
November 15, 2000
Vote recount must continue past deadline, Gore camp says
November 14, 2000
With Florida court action reaching critical mass, a compromise may be in works
November 14, 2000
Judge grants injunction to freeze Palm Beach vote certification
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Florida law provides variety of cures for problem elections
November 9, 2000
Reno says Justice Department keeping an eye on Florida election November 9, 2000
Justice Department discusses Florida election
November 8, 2000
Election Day allegations could form basis for legal challenges, experts say
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Electoral win not a guarantee, no matter what happens in Florida
November 8, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Florida State Courts
Opinions of the Supreme Court of Florida - Provided by the University of Florida Levin College of Law
Florida Attorney General Web site
Florida law: Electors and elections
Florida law: Conducting elections and ascertaining the results


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