But the battle for the White House had long since come down to Florida.

``Neither Governor Bush, nor the Florida secretary of state, nor I, will be the arbiter of this election,'' Gore said Friday afternoon. ``This election is a matter that must be decided by the will of the people as expressed under the rule of law, law which has meaning as determined in Florida now by the Florida Supreme Court.''

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking on behalf of the Bush camp, said the court had ``issued an order that neither side requested. Nevertheless, its action is not an order on the merits of the case.''

Gore, then Baker, spoke shortly after the Florida justices stepped into the disputed election on their own, deciding to ``maintain the status quo,'' and ordering Secretary of State Katherine Harris not to certify final statewide returns until further notice.

Harris had previously served notice she intended to certify a winner shortly after noon Saturday, and had been planning a ceremonial certification after the overseas absentee ballots had been counted.