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Writs Flying In Florida

November 23, 2000

Legal action is the order of the day in Florida as the presidential election counting debacle gathers pace. Earlier today, the Canvassing Board in Miami-Dade County unanimously decided to stop recounting votes and to submit for certification the results from November 8. This action is being contested by the Gore campaign.

Simultaneously, it has been announced by the Bush campaign that they will appeal to the United States Supreme Court against yesterday's unanimous decision of the Florida Supreme Court to permit hand recounts and which imposed a new deadline of next Sunday for counting to be completed.

It is not clear if the United States Supreme Court will agree to hear the appeal from Florida. A number of the judges, including the Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, have records of support for States rights, and they may decide to stay out of the dispute.

Any decision by the Federal Supreme Court to intervene will escalate the political crisis even further. There has already been a marked increase in aggressive rhetoric in the past 24 hours. James Baker, the former Secretary of State in Bush's father's cabinet, has attacked the Florida court for what he calls its interference in the rights of the executive branch.

Baker has also hinted strongly at the possibility of the Florida legislature, controlled by the Republicans, intervening to appoint a slate of electors to the Electoral College. According to Article 2, Section 1, of the Constitution, "each State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature may direct", electors to represent it in the College. Any such move would hasten what the respected New York Times writer, R. W. Apple, has called "political armageddon".

As has happened so often in this amazing political drama, the turnarounds in political fortunes have been rapid. The Gore camp was initially exultant following the Supreme Court decision. The ruling represented an important victory for Gore, reviving his chances of winning the election by picking up previously discarded votes in a number of Florida counties.

Republican Party supporters protesting outside counting centres were similarly exultant when the decision of the Miami-Dade board was announced. Miami-Dade is one of the most populous counties with about 650,000 votes and is heavily pro-Democratic. Recounting here represented Gore's best hope of closing the 930-vote gap with Bush. There is little evidence of Gore gaining enough votes in the other counties to be able to win Florida.

The Republican Party has also announced that it will challenge the decision to exclude absentee ballots from the military. These have gone overwhelmingly to Bush.

What is not yet clear is the fate of thousands of ballot papers which have been set aside on the grounds that they have not been completely perforated when hole-punched. These hanging chads, pregnant chads and dimples remain at the heart of the dispute between the two contenders.

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