Gore to challenge results

No plans to concede; top Fla. Court refuses to order resumption of Miami-Dade count

By Lynda Gorov and Anne E. Kornblut, Globe Staff, 11/24/2000

IAMI - The Florida Supreme Court yesterday dealt Al Gore a serious blow by refusing to force Miami-Dade County to resume its hand count of presidential ballots, but the vice president's camp vowed to keep fighting.

While Republicans celebrated the court decision, Gore's lawyers said they would challenge Miami-Dade's voting results no later than Monday, and that Gore would not yet concede a race that already has gone 17 days past Election Day.

Each candidate needs Florida's 25 Electoral College votes to win the presidency, and most observers say that Gore needed to pick up votes in Democratic-leaning Miami to overcome George W. Bush's slim lead.

But a Democratic Party leader yesterday said the two other Florida counties undergoing recounts still could give Gore a victory before the court-ordered deadline of 5 p.m. Sunday. Unofficial tallies of the recounts yesterday showed that Gore has gained 217 votes, leaving him 713 votes behind Bush.

''I believe that if we have a full and fair, accurate count in Broward and Palm Beach counties, those two counties will be enough to put us over the top,'' said Ron Klain, a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Far away from the Florida dispute, Gore and Bush spent a quiet Thanksgiving day at home. Bush celebrated the holiday by having lunch with friends in Austin, Texas, before taking his wife and daughters to their ranch in Crawford. In sunny and chilly Washington, Gore and his wife, Tipper, spent Thanksgiving with their children and made no public appearances.

Also in Washington, Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney spent a second day in a Washington hospital recovering from a mild heart attack, and a hospital spokeswoman said he could be released as early as today.

In a separate court battle, the Gore team last night filed a brief asking the US Supreme Court to deny Bush's request to bar the use of hand-counted election ballots in Florida.

Gore's brief to the nation's high court said Bush was asking the justices ''to interfere with a task that has been expressly delegated to the state of Florida,'' the choosing of presidential electors, and ''would diminish the legitimacy'' of the presidential election.

The Democratic filing also said that Bush's court brief contained false and ''partisan accusations regarding the manner in which the Florida recount is proceeding.''

Lawyers for Bush were expected to file a response early today, and the justices could announce as early as today whether they will grant review to the two appeals filed by Bush on Wednesday. The Republican candidate asked the court to grant quick review so the matter could be resolved before Dec. 18, when the electors from the states are scheduled to make the final vote for president.

Bush's lawyers want the justices to review Tuesday's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court. In addition, the Bush campaign asked the high court to bypass a federal appeals court and review a federal judge's decision last week not to block the recount.

While the court battles were proceeding, the Broward County canvassing board met in Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving to examine disputed ballots.

US Representative Peter Deutsch, whose district includes the affected counties, insisted the state's highest court had left open the possibility of a deadline extension in Miami-Dade.

Like other party leaders, he said all Americans should be shocked by the decision of the Miami-Dade canvassing board to end the hand recount Wednesday, which occurred after perhaps a dozen Republicans stormed the office where the ballots were being tallied.

''Words even stranger than shock should be felt by all Americans,'' said Deutsch, noting that the board's decision came after perhaps a dozen Republicans stormed the offices where the ballots were being tallied. ''Mob rule literally could determine the outcome of this election.''

But Patrick Oxford, a Republican who is managing Bush's defense team in Florida, called the court decision the only one possible. If local election officials do not want a recount, he said, there should be no recount - an argument similar to the one that the Gore campaign used when local officials in Palm Beach and Broward counties wanted a recount and the Bush campaign unsuccessfully went to court to stop them. Miami-Dade is the state's largest county, and a recount there was expected to yield many additional votes for Gore.

''Our basic position is that folks in Miami-Dade County showed a lot of character,'' Oxford said. ''They made some rules to level the playing field and stuck to them. We're not asking for it to tilt our way, just for it not to tilt.''

In his emergency Thanksgiving Day appeal, Gore told the court the recount was ''being frustrated by a deliberate campaign of delay and intimidation of local officials.'' But no hearing was held, although the ruling by justices who conferred by conference call does allow Gore's lawyers to refile their motion using other legal grounds or to take their case to another court.

US Representative Clay Shaw, a Republican whose district includes the three contested counties, said Miami-Dade had chosen the fair path in choosing to halt its recount. All or no Florida votes should be recounted, he said, not just some of them. Even before the court decision, he said he believed Bush would win as he stood outside the Broward County courtroom where another recount was under way.

''Is it fair that the loser [of the presidential election] can pick out the counties for recounts where he got the most votes,'' Shaw said, later adding, ''Unless there's some way they can drag Miami-Dade back into this, it appears that Gore is going to lose and Bush is going to win. But you never know what's in those envelopes.''

In a week of legal and political brinksmanship, Miami-Dade threw the ongoing presidential election into even more turmoil Wednesday when it suspended a full manual recount. That stunning move came one day after the state Supreme Court handed Gore a victory by ruling that recounts could continue and must be counted in Florida's final tally. It set a deadline of 5 p.m. Sunday for recounts to be concluded.

According to Gore's 29-page brief to the court, ''If no action is taken, the Miami-Dade Board would be allowed to achieve what this court, just two days ago, held that the secretary of state could not do: reject the ballots of thousands of Floridians for reasons of mere administrative convenience.''

But Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker dismissed the Gore appeal, noting that the court had already extended the statutory deadline by 12 days. ''It seems Al Gore wants the court to keep extending the deadline until he can count the votes enough times to change the result,'' she said.

Palm Beach County resumes its recount today, and Broward's will continue through the weekend. On Dec. 18, each state's electors are slated to vote on the White House's next occupant. Without Florida's participation, Bush argued in his appeal, the president's legitimacy could be questioned or the country could face a constitutional crisis.

''There's really a sort of Alice in Wonderland quality to this whole election,'' Deutsch said. ''The whole process would've been complete a week ago if the Republicans hadn't kept trying to stop it.''

Gorov reported from Miami, Kornblut from Texas. Material from the Associated Press also was used.