The differences in Florida vote totals remained paper-thin Monday as attorneys for Al Gore and George W. Bush fought before the state's Supreme Court over a manual recount of punch ballots that could determine America's next president.
Republicans want to stop the hand recounts in three heavily Democratic counties. Democrats, looking for new votes to whittle down Bush's 930-vote lead, are pressing to have them included in the final official tally.
About 6 million votes were cast overall in make-or-break Florida.
Gore spoke Monday from the White House via satellite to an annual family-policy conference he was to have attended at Tennessee's Vanderbilt University. "I appreciate this chance to speak to the Florida Supreme Court," he deadpanned.
The forum was put off from last summer because of the campaign. "We decided to move this one out of the heat of the election to late November," Gore said with a small, forced chuckle. "I just assumed by Nov. 20 the election would be over with. But I guess not."
Bush, the Texas governor, went to the Capitol in Austin for several hours of work Monday morning, breezing in with the words, "Feeling great."
His brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, had his state's image in mind Monday morning. "Don't be left with the impression that because we can't count votes that we are not a progressive state," he said.
A weekend tally of overseas absentee ballots stretched Bush's official lead. But uncompleted hand recounts over the weekend in Broward and Palm Beach counties cut Bush's lead to 834 votes as of midnight Sunday. The hand counting resumed Monday in those counties and started in Miami-Dade County.
Gore narrowly won the nationwide popular vote and holds a slight edge over Bush in the all- important Electoral College tally. But neither candidate will reach the required 270 electoral votes to be declared the nations 43rd president without Floridas 25 electors.
On Monday, a circuit court judge turned down a request for a new election in Palm Beach County, where some voters complained that they were confused by the ballot and did not cast their votes for Gore as they had intended. Judge Jorge Labarga said he didnt have the authority to order another vote.
Prospects for an abrupt end to the election deadlock were highly uncertain; Gores allies were not ruling out pressing ahead on other fronts if the state Supreme Court did not support them, and Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who is close to the Gore campaign, said on the morning talk shows Monday that the states entire vote should be counted again by hand.
What were trying to achieve here is an election that has credibility by the American people, he said on ABCs Good Morning America. That credibility would likely be enhanced if all Florida voters had their ballots hand counted.
Sensitive to Republican charges that Democrats were systematically challenging absentee ballots from military personnel overseas, Graham said military votes should not be discounted simply because they lacked a postmark.
Election officials should bend over backward to have military votes count, he said on NBCs Today Show. The federal law provides that a postmark is not required for overseas stationed military personnel.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gores running mate, said Sunday that election officials should take another look at discarded military ballots. He said he and Gore would not tolerate a campaign that was aimed specifically at invalidating absentee ballots.
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