Judge denies request to stop recount; Florida sets final tally deadline at 5 p.m.

by George Fairbanks

At one moment it looks like the 2000 presidential election is nearing an end. A minute later, it suddenly appears that the country is further away than ever from knowing the identity of its next leader.
Early Monday, a federal judge denied a legal request by the campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush to end hand recounting of ballots in four Florida counties.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks refused the injunction, saying it is a matter best left up to state courts.
Additionally, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced her intention to enforce Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline for all votes to be in. According to reports from her office, those counties still in the midst of hand recounts will have their last mechanical counting added to Florida’s total count.
“We are trying to bring the election in for a landing,” Harris said in a statement. “We think a process that has no end is a disservice to everyone who cast a ballot in this election.”
Vice President Al Gore’s Florida representative, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, tore into Harris at an afternoon press conference. He accused her of playing partisan politics, noting that she is a Republican who has long been a supporter of Bush’s younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Furthermore, Harris has also campaigned in Florida with the presidential candidate.
At his press conference Christopher said, “We regard this action as being both arbitrary and unreasonable. Her plan, I’m afraid, has the look of an effort to produce a particular result in this election … It also looks like a move in the direction of partisan politics.”
The Gore camp made clear they will join with officials from Volusia County — one of the four counties in the midst of hand recounts — in challenging Harris’ ruling in state court before Tuesday’s deadline.
As late afternoon approached yesterday, the vice president gave a press conference in front of the White House. It was his first public comment in days.
“While time is important, it is even more important that every vote is counted and counted accurately. I would not want to win the presidency by a few votes cast in error or misinterpreted or not counted, and I don’t think Gov. Bush wants that either,” Gore said.
As the election currently stands, Gore has 255 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Bush is following with 246, making Florida’s 25 electoral votes the prize that will finally get one man over the top.
According to The Associated Press, with all 67 counties reporting, Bush leads Gore in Florida by 279 votes. Overseas absentee ballots still need to be counted once they arrive.
Some Bush aids have stated privately that if recounts are stopped those absentee ballots might be enough to give Bush a clear margin.
Unfortunately for Bush and his possible future presidency, he trails Gore by 222,655 votes in the popular count. That total seems to become increasingly more insurmountable for Bush.
Four Florida counties are seeking an extension in order to complete counting the votes by hand. If the request is granted, they’ll begin the task early Tuesday morning. To count each of the more than 400,000 ballots cast, two shifts of counters will work 14 hours for possibly as long as six days.
The news of the hand count extension finding its way into court dominated the late afternoon and evening news cycles.
While pundits and pontificators were evenly mixed as to whether or not a judge would grant the request, the nearly unanimous consensus is that whatever the outcome, it could very well decide the next president of the United States.

George Fairbanks covers elections and welcomes comments at [email protected]