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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Bush, Gore Pressed to Accept Verdict Brought by Recounts

Election: 'Whoever is the loser should give in' after tally is complete, Democratic Rep. Gephardt says. Vice president's camp predicts resolution in 'a matter of days.' Hand count begins in Volusia County.

November 13, 2000|MARK Z. BARABAK and MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The deadlocked race for president pointed Sunday toward a possible resolution, as pressure mounted on both sides to end the stalemate once all the votes are counted.

As a hand tally of more than 180,000 ballots got underway in Florida's Volusia County, attorneys for Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush prepared to face off today in a federal courtroom in Miami.

In legal papers filed Sunday night, Gore's attorneys challenged Bush's claims that Florida's procedures for counting ballots by hand are unconstitutional. The Texas governor is seeking to block the hand tabulation of about 1.5 million disputed ballots, including more than 460,000 in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County.

After canvassing about 1% of the county's ballots and turning up 19 Gore votes, election officials voted early Sunday to expand their manual review to every ballot.

Even as the hand count was underway in Volusia County, a consensus seemed to emerge Sunday among leading lawmakers in Washington that the matter should be settled once all the votes are tallied.

"When all of the hand recounts are finished, then whoever is the loser should give in and recognize the other party," said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), the House minority leader.

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the Senate minority leader, said on CBS' "Face the Nation": "We have got to count the absentee ballots. We have got to count those that have either been miscounted or not counted. . . . But I think that we really ought to be very cautious and very, very concerned about taking this matter to the courts."

From the Republican side, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) weighed in. "We are not in a constitutional crisis," McCain said. "But the American people are growing weary, and whoever wins is having a rapidly diminishing mandate, to say the least."

Speaking on Bush's behalf, James A. Baker III took to the Washington talk shows Sunday to urge Gore to drop his recount demands. He called the fight over Florida "a black mark on our democracy."

But his counterpart, Warren Christopher, insisted the hand counting must go forward to ensure the integrity of the vote. "We're not talking about a long delay here," Christopher said. "I think it's a matter of days--not weeks, not months--but days before we reach a result."

An unofficial Associated Press canvass of the vote in Florida--including the results of a second mechanical recount in Palm Beach County--gave Bush a 288-vote lead, down slightly from his margin last week. State officials give Bush a 960-vote lead, but their tally excluded Palm Beach County.

The earliest the final results will be known is Friday, the deadline for overseas ballots to be returned. In Volusia County, which encompasses Daytona Beach and surrounding areas, the full results of the hand count are expected Tuesday.

The winner of Florida and its 25 electoral votes will probably take the White House with just over the 270 votes needed to win.

As America waited and watched, the overtime fight for the presidency moved from humid Florida to the hermetically sealed cool of the Beltway talk-show circuit.

Arguing as though before a jury--which, in effect, they were--Baker and Christopher used their appearances to press their clients' respective cases.

Baker said GOP attorneys would assert today in court that manual recounts in only four of Florida's 67 counties would constitute unequal treatment under the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. He asserted Florida has no uniform standard for reviewing the ballots and suggested that Democrats who control the contested counties would play favorites.

"It's all subjective, and therefore it presents terrible problems of human error and potential for mischief," Baker said.

Bush will drop the lawsuit he filed Saturday, Baker said, "if [Gore] would agree with us to respect the results of the statewide recount, subject only to tabulating the results of the overseas ballots" due by Friday.

"Whoever wins then, wins," Baker said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But if the Gore campaign refuses to back down, Baker went on, Bush may seek to force recounts in other close states as well. "If the Gore campaign is going to continue to call for recount after recount after recount until they're satisfied with the result here in Florida, we may be forced to suggest that there be recounts in all of these states where we trail very narrowly," Baker said.

Even as he made that threat, however, Baker declined to say how far Bush would push his legal fight. Asked if the GOP nominee would appeal if he fails to prevail today in Miami, Baker hedged. "We have said that we will vigorously contest the efforts for a manual recount in selective counties here in Florida," Baker said on CNN. "If that means going up, maybe that's what it would mean. On the other hand, maybe we won't."

Appearing on NBC, Christopher--a fellow lawyer, and fellow ex-secretary of State--insisted the manual recounts must go forward.

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