SCMP Friday, November 17, 2000

Supreme Court allows hand recounts to resume

REUTERS in Tallahassee, Florida

Updated at 10.10am:
Florida's Supreme Court gave the green light overnight (HK time) to key counties to resume hand recounts of votes in a boost for supporters of Democrat Al Gore, who believe they can reverse George W Bush's tiny lead in the state that will decide the victor in the still-unresolved US presidential election.
Nine days after a national election that was thrown into disarray in Florida by voter confusion and accusations of widespread irregularities and partisan maneuvering, a legal hurricane has whipped up in the Sunshine State.
Officials in the key county of Palm Beach had asked the court to decide between conflicting legal opinions issued by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican, who said manual recounting should halt, and Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, who said hand counts could continue.
''We are obviously gratified,'' William Daley, Gore campaign chairman, said after the ruling. He said it was a clear signal for counties to continue counting despite what Ms Harris said.
With more than 100 million voters in the world's most powerful country evenly divided, the few hundred votes in Florida are crucially important.
Democrats believe the recount, allowed by all seven Florida Supreme Court justices who were appointed during the terms of Democratic governors, could overturn a 300-vote Bush lead in the state and deliver the White House to Mr Gore.
In a separate development, court officials said a state judge would rule on Friday morning on a Democratic challenge to a decision by Ms Harris that the state's critical vote total could not be amended to include late hand-counted returns. Ms Harris said she planned to announce Florida's official vote on Saturday evening (HK time) after receiving overseas ballots due by early Saturday.
At the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where Republicans are seeking to overturn a federal court's refusal to order the halting of a hand recount of presidential ballots, a judge asked for more information by 8pm on Friday.
After the state Supreme Court ruling, Palm Beach County, the centre of electoral turmoil where 19,000 votes were disqualified because ballot cards were double-punched, thus invalidating them, started hand counting. The recount could take up to five days.
''They have given us that authority, so we intend on proceeding until such time as the recount is concluded,'' said Charles Burton, chairman of the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board that supervises elections.