Beliefnet
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Nov. 15 -- Florida's highest court Wednesday rejected the Republican secretary of state's request to delay any hand recounting of ballots and to consolidate law suits in one court as the chaotic tally of presidential votes continued more than a week after Election Day.

Katherine Harris had asked the Florida Supreme Court to order a halt to ongoing manual recounts "pending resolution as to whether any basis exists" for their legitimacy.

She also asked that the flurry of legal actions around the state be transferred to the local circuit court in Tallahassee, the state capital. She wanted any new suits filed in the same court, too.

"We have considered this petition and have determined that the decision should be denied," the unanimous seven-member court wrote in a brief order.

The court ruled without holding a hearing on Harris' request.

In rejecting her suit, the judges, all chosen by Democratic governors, did not address the many other election-related legal challenges making their way through Florida courts.

They did, however, agree to clarify the legality of the recounts, telling Palm Beach County, Broward County, and the Gore campaign they could submit legal briefs by Thursday afternoon.

The Bush campaign, however, won at least a partial victory in another suit Wednesday when a federal appeals court in Atlanta agreed to hear arguments that the hand counts are unfair. That decision hinted that the dispute eventually could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tuesday, four counties - Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Collier - asked Harris for more time to finish recounting their ballots, citing conflicting legal opinions, delays due to lawsuits, and new ballot tallies. Harris had set a 2 p.m. Tuesday deadline for the recounts to end.

The post-balloting legal wrangling escalated Wednesday, eight days after the election and one day after Harris said Bush held a 300-vote lead over Gore in the race that will determine the next president. Harris has promised the vote would be settled by Saturday, when the final overseas absentee ballots are tabulated.

"Everything is getting more complicated by the second," Denise Dytrych, counsel for the Palm Beach County canvassing board, told the board Wednesday morning as it grappled with Harris' latest legal move. "Right now you have no clear direction from anywhere."

Palm Beach County canvassing Judge Charles Burton summed up the frustration reverberating through the state and the country:

"On the one hand, we're trying to move forward," he said. "On the other hand, it almost seems to be musical courts, so to speak. We're going from one courtroom to the next courtroom to the next courtroom."

A judge Wednesday did clarify one issue: Canvassers may indeed decide whether a "dimple" rather than a full perforation constitutes a vote. "No vote is to be declared invalid or void if there was a clear intention of the voter," Circuit Court Judge Jorge Labarga ruled.

The Palm Beach board also brushed aside a complaint from Republicans that one of its three canvassing judges, County Commissioner Carol Roberts, manipulated or tampered with ballots during Saturday's recount to award them to Gore. Roberts, a Democrat, denied the charge and said she would not recuse herself.

"I have and will continue to be impartial," she said.

Dytrych, the board counsel, said the point was moot because the board did not have the authority to remove Roberts anyway.

In neighboring Broward County, a heavily Democratic district, elections officials voted along party lines, 2-1, to reopen their recount of nearly 500,000 votes, reversing a Monday decision.

The county is one of four where the Gore campaign has asked for ballot recounts, citing confusion over the ballot and thousands of invalidated votes. Miami-Dade County rejected the request after initial sampling by hand turned up little statistical difference. Volusia County completed its recount Tuesday, giving Gore an additional 98 votes.

The Bush camp argues that manual recounts expose the election to human error and political mischief. Karen Hughes, Bush's spokeswoman, said Democrats are "attempting to reinterpret the results of the election and the intentions of voters by subjective, not objective means."

Meanwhile, the would-be presidents remained out of sight. Bush, who has not made a public appearance since Saturday, stayed at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Gore had no public appearances scheduled for Wednesday.

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