Florida SC urged to delay handcount

WASHINGTON, NOV. 15. The Florida Secretary of State, Ms. Katherine Harris, has asked the State Supreme Court to delay handcounting of votes and to consolidate all the lawsuits filed in the last several days. Ms. Harris took the legal recourse after some counties, particularly Palm Beach County, insisted that the handcount would start despite the deadline for certification having expired at 5 p.m on Tuesday.

In a verdict where both the Republicans and the Democrats claimed victory, a State judge ruled that the deadline issued by the Secretary of State for all counties for certification was valid; but Ms. Harris would have also to consider filing of returns later. Counties were given till 2 p.m. on Wednesday to justify why they should be allowed to continue after expiry of the deadline.

Official returns from the State showed the Texas Governor, Mr. George W. Bush, leading the Vice-President, Mr. Al Gore, by 300 votes. Overseas ballots would be tallied by midnight on Friday.

``Without question this court (the Supreme Court of Florida) must make it clear that the election of the President and the Vice- President is not a matter of local pleasure. It is, at the least, a State-wide matter of concern. This court must assume control over this litigation to preserve its ability to establish standards and to protect the voters of this State,'' Ms. Harris said in her emergency petition.

The Bush campaign is getting ready to move the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta urging an injunction against the handcount. On Monday, a federal judge in Florida refused to grant this in what was seen as the first major blow to the Bush campaign. The Republicans had been saying that manual counting in selected and predominantly Democratic counties was not fair.

The focus in Florida on Wednesday morning will be on the Supreme Court. The court has seven judges, all of them appointed by Democratic Governors. Ms. Harris argued that the local canvassing boards should stop handcounting ``pending resolution as to whether any basis exists to modify the certified results after the statutory deadline for the submission of returns''.

Meanwhile, manual counting has not begun in Palm Beach County but for a different reason. The local canvassing board is waiting for a judge to rule on a Democratic lawsuit that demands previously rejected ballots on account of incomplete punching to be considered again. County officials are also waiting for guidance from the Supreme Court on how to go about the next stage given that they have conflicting advice from the Secretary of State and the Attorney-General.