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Gore campaign turns to Florida Supreme Court
By Raju Chebium
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Florida Supreme Court on Friday unanimously blocked Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris from certifying the statewide ballot this weekend as planned.
Responding to an appeal filed by lawyers for Vice President Al Gore, Florida's highest court ruled 7-0 that the final certification should be postponed "until further order of this court."
The justices scheduled oral arguments for 2 p.m. Monday, when lawyers for Gore and Republican candidate George W. Bush will argue over how to resolve the election stalemate and determine who will ascend to the presidency.
The order from Florida's highest court represented a partial victory for Gore's campaign, which sought to block the possible Saturday certification of the Florida vote.
The order means it will be at least next week before it becomes clear who won the contested Florida presidential election, which will award the winner the crucial 25 electoral votes.
Gore praised the order as "very important" to ensure a fair and accurate ballot tally in the state.
"The citizens of Florida surely want the candidate who receives the most votes in Florida to be declared the winner of that state," he said in brief remarks in Washington.
On Thursday, Florida's highest court allowed manual recounts to continue in South Florida. The court's order Friday expressly allowed those counts to continue.
Many Palm Beach County voters said the ballot confused them into voting for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan when they meant to pick Gore. That led to controversial manual recounts endorsed by Democrats and opposed by the Republicans.
Gore lawyer David Boies said the Gore campaign's appeals raised two questions:
When can Harris certify the statewide ballot?
According to Boies, Florida law says a statewide certification can be blocked if Harris rejects "a number of legal votes sufficient to change or place in doubt the outcome of the election."
The Democrats have long argued that the manual recounts could tip the balance for Gore.
Boies appealed after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, a Democrat, ruled against Gore earlier Friday.
Lewis ruled that Harris "exercised her reasoned judgment" in deciding to reject manual vote recounts filed after a November 14 deadline.
All 67 counties submitted their vote totals by deadline.
But the counties of Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward were conducting or considering manual recounts of some or all votes cast within their borders and told Harris they would file amended totals.
Lewis on November 14 said Harris has the authority to accept or reject such amended totals filed after the November 14 deadline.
However, he told her to base her decision on proper "discretion," ordering her not to reject any amended total simply because they were filed after the deadline.
On Wednesday, Harris announced that she would reject the amended totals.
On Thursday, the Gore campaign told Lewis that Harris had violated his order by acting in an arbitrary fashion, asking the Democratic judge to declare the preliminary statewide vote certification "null and void."
Lawyers for Harris and Bush argued that Harris exercised proper discretion.
They said the law requires counties to file by deadline unless natural disasters or malfunctioning balloting equipment prevented vote tallies. The counties did not raise such problems, therefore Harris rejected hand recounts, they said.
Bush campaign observer and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker praised Lewis' ruling, saying: "The rule of law has prevailed. The court applied the rule of law objectively and fairly."
Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes indicated that the Texas governor awaits the absentee-vote tally to see if he held on to his lead and won the race to the White House.
Judge rules Florida Secretary of State did not abuse her discretion in denying recount
Florida State Courts
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