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    Legal Challenges Mean Presidential Result Will Be Delayed Days Or Weeks More

    Dan Bernard, Staff Writer, The Pittsburgh Channel
    November 10, 2000, 9:23 a.m. EST

    WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush kept more votes than Al Gore as Florida counties completed their presidential ballot recount early Friday, albeit barely -- just 327 votes out of 6 million cast in that state.

    But the Bush campaign declared the win definitive and admonished Gore's camp to drop the legal challenges it announced Thursday.

    "We hope that Vice President Gore and his campaign will reconsider his threats of lawsuits and more recounts, which could undermine the constitutional process of selecting a president and has no foreseeable end," the Bush campaign said in a statement to CNN early Friday.

    Yet it was almost certain that the recount would not resolve the paralysis that settled on the American political system after Tuesday's voting ended so narrowly.

    The recount has yet to be certified by the state and does not include the estimated 2,300 absentee ballots that can be received until Nov. 17. The figures were gathered from each of Florida's 67 counties by the Associated Press and The Pittsburgh Channel's affiliate Web sites around Florida.

    Gore representatives on Thursday had burst the tension by announcing they would join with various voters and Democrats mounting legal challenges to Nov. 7 balloting procedures around Florida.

    Gore's campaign said it would push for an additional recount by hand in four counties including Palm Beach and Miami-Dade and would help push for a re-examination of 19,100 Palm Beach County ballots that had been ruled invalid because they had been punched twice.

    The legal challenges would add days or weeks of uncertainty to a presidential election that was supposed to be decided Tuesday.

    The Bush campaign responded sternly to the announcement by the Gore camp Thursday.

    "Mr. Gore's campaign did not like the outcome of the election, and it seems like the won't like the outcome of the official recount, either," Bush campaign chairman Don Evans said in Austin, Texas, press conference call soon after the Gore camp's announcement. "The Democrats who are politicizing and distorting these events risk doing so at the expense of our democracy."

    Events in Palm Beach County already will force further deliberations on that county's voting. A circuit judge ruled that the county's recount cannot be certified until after a state hearing next week. Meanwhile, some Palm Beach County officials said that a manual recount of that county's ballots would be necessary.

    Recount: Bush Lead Disappears

    The recount completed Friday was mandated by Florida law because Bush's victory margin in Tuesday balloting was so slender -- 1,784 votes. Seminole County, the last to finish, took its time: As the counting dragged on, the announcement was repeatedly postponed, then finally made at about 5:15 a.m. Eastern time.

    Florida's official accounting of the recount lagged behind the media as officials vowed to be deliberate. State officials said Thursday evening that they had certified recounts from only 52 of Florida's 67 counties. In that incomplete count, Bush still had a lead of more than 1,700 votes.

    But even as the vote-counters performed the extra tabulation, Gore moved from passive observer to active objector fighting for the presidency.

    "We're raising some very serious questions and legal actions will be taken," Clinton campaign chairman William Daley said at a Florida press conference with Warren Christopher, the former Clinton secretary of state reresenting Gore during the recount.

    Daley said the campaign would support state Democrats' call for a recount by hand of ballots in four Democratic-leaning counties: Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, St. Lucie and Broward. Daley said the campaign would support lawsuits scrutinizing Palm Beach County officials' rejection of some 19,100 ballots on which two candidates' slots had been punched out. Only 3,783 voters made that mistake on the U.S. Senate portion of the ballot.

    Bush's emissaries responded by casting Gore as a sore loser out to manipulate the legal system to his benefit.

    "Our democratic process calls for a vote on Election Day; it does not call for us to continue voting until someone likes the outcome," Bush chairman Don Evans said in Austin. "The Democrats who are politicizing and distorting (the recount) are doing so at the expense of our democracy."

    After the media reported the unofficial recount results, the Bush campaign quickly issued a statement pressuring Gore to accept the results. CNN quoted an unnamed Gore adviser as saying the Democrats' camp would not concede.

    Feds Standing Aside

    Attorney General Janet Reno said early Thursday there was no reason for federal authorities to "jump in" but pledged to review any complaint brought to her.

    "We are not here to generate controversy," Reno, a former Miami prosecutor, said at her weekly news conference. Click for video: Reno: "Democracy will deal with this."

    The winner of Florida stands to gain the state's 25 electoral votes -- and the keys to the Oval Office with them.

    Nationally, nearly 48 hours after the polls closed, Gore had 255 electoral votes and Bush had 246, with Oregon and New Mexico too close to call. They mattered mostly for the history books. Neither man could gain the 270 needed for victory without Florida.

    Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, tapped by Bush to represent him in Florida, told reporters he had seen neither allegations of fraud nor evidence of it. He said the controversial Palm Beach County ballots had been reviewed before the election by both campaigns, "and guess what, there were no complaints until after the election."

    Since then, some voters have complained they may have mistakenly have voted for Pat Buchanan rather than Gore, as they intended.

    Baker said he intended to meet privately later in the day with Gore's emissary Christopher.

    Several residents of Palm Beach County filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking a new election there, contending ballots in the county were "deceptive, misleading and confusing." A number of people said they accidentally voted for conservative Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan rather than Gore because names and circles on the punch ballot didn't line up.

    Buchanan said on NBC's "Today" show, "When I took one look at that ballot on election night ... it's very easy for me to see how someone could have voted for me in the belief they voted for Al Gore."

    "But both parties signed off on this particular ballot, and so I don't see how you can organize another referendum or another vote just for Palm Beach County," he said.

    Bush urged a speedy resolution. When all is resolved, the Texas governor said Wednesday, he was confident that "I'll be the president-elect."

    Gore said Wednesday the election must be resolved "deliberately and without any rush to judgment."

    Near deadlock, Tuesday's election was one of the closest in history. Gore held a tiny lead in the national popular vote but he and Bush both were achingly close to the 270 electoral votes required to win the White House. Florida's 25 electoral votes would put either candidate over the top.

    By late Wednesday, Bush had won 29 states for 246 electoral votes. Gore had won 18 states plus the District of Columbia for 255. New Mexico and Oregon were too close to call, but wouldn't make a difference.

    If Bush ends up winning Florida and Gore's lead in the national popular vote holds, Bush would be the fourth man in history -- the first in more than a century -- to win the presidency while coming in second in popular votes.

    Regardless of who wins, the next president will face a Congress deeply divided by modest Democratic gains, with Republicans holding thinner majorities in the House and Senate.

    Anticipating victory, Bush was preparing to announce key roles in his administration for retired Gen. Colin Powell, likely to be named secretary of state, and former Transportation Secretary Andrew Card, probably as White House chief of staff. Bush running mate Dick Cheney will head the Republican transition team, aides said.

    Gore also thought about his transition. Aides said his first decision would be what to do with Daley, a natural for transition director or White House chief of staff.

    Americans cast more than 101 million votes, the second most in history behind the 104 million of 1992.

    With all precincts reporting unofficial results, Gore had 48,707,413 votes and Bush had 48,609,640 votes -- with just 97,773 votes separating them. Only three times before had a presidential candidate lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College, the last time in 1888 when Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland.

    For more campaign coverage from The Pittsburgh Channel, click here

    Copyright 2001 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.