5:20 p.m. ET
The deadline held and the deadline passed, and the Florida tally is certified but not finished. And Florida's Secretary of State (and Republican) Katherine Harris is now the star of a game that now, at least, seems to have some rules.
Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, Harris will do her duty and announce that with all counties reporting, one candidate (expected to be George W. Bush) is, in the eyes of her office, winning the state of Florida, pending the final roundup Friday. And for the rest of the week, Harris will face a legal and political quandary: What to do when a by-hand recount comes in late?
Volusia County has made the point moot by sending the results of their hand count to Tallahassee about 25 minutes before the deadline. (In it, Gore apparently picked up 98 votes, knocking Bush's AP lead down to 290.)
Even Palm Beach County may be getting its act together. After County Circuit Judge Jorge Labarge (the sixth judge in line after five recused themselves) dissolved the injunction preventing the county from certifying election results while the "butterfly ballot" lawsuits proceed, the board sent their tallies off to Tallahassee to be included in the final tally. That was about 30 minutes before the deadline.
Miami-Dade County is moving ahead; Volusia County may ask for more time too. Broward County, after ditching a proposed hand count Monday, is considering reconsidering. Palm Beach will start its own manual recount 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, with little chance of completing it on time for Friday night; partial returns may be an option. Said a frustrated canvassing board member: "We've wasted three days of counting, basically."
The Bush camp is still looking to stop them. They will go ahead with an appeal of the decision they lost Monday morning and ask an appellate panel for another temporary injunction against the counts. For them, it's worth a shot.
But all this week, it will be up to Harris to sift through the inevitable clamor from the hand-counters encouraged by Gore campers to turn in their results and never mind the afternoon ruling putting Harris in charge. Democrats are out in force declaring Harris too partisan (she was co-chair of Bush's campaign in Florida), and making very loud noises about how Harris would be in clear violation of the order if she turns any count-amending counties away hungry.
Bush's people say the loophole's a lot smaller than Gore's people say, and they're quietly celebrating their successful defense (to whatever extent it turns out to be successful) of the 5 p.m. deadline. At the very least, they see the Friday final tally emerging at decision time, and they hope that recounts in populous Democratic enclaves like Dade and Palm Beach won't have turned up enough Gore votes by then to beat them. In the meantime, they're intent on being the side that stops the insanity, so expect to hear more disarmament offers from James Baker and other Bush surrogates in the morning.
Could it really be over on Saturday morning? Al Gore's lawyers can best answer that question, but for now they're ceding nothing. (An encouraging sign: Lately, sound bites about the "terrible injustice" of Palm beach's butterfly ballot have dropped off to nothing.) Gore's people continue to loudly push not for litigation, not for "partisan politics," but merely that all the votes be counted. So far, polls still show Americans are willing to wait. (And certainly the markets were cheerful enough Tuesday.)
As for the Gore camp's legal interpretation of the ruling still in the appeals process at the Florida Supreme Court antitrust vet David Boies told CNN, "We look at it like the judge telling the secretary of state what the right thing to do is, and [saying] 'We assume you're going to do the right thing.'"
It was not a subtle hint.
3:30 p.m. ET
Now the Gore campaign says it won the ruling, based on its reading of the word "arbitrarily." With Volusia County standing in for them appeal-wise in the Florida Supreme Court over the 5 p.m. certification deadline, the message at 2:15 p.m. to eager counties from former secretary of state Warren Christopher and antitrust bigwig David Boies was, go ahead with the hand recounts. If results come in late, Boies said, Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris "has a duty to accept those reports unless she has a good reason not to." Needless to say, the Gore camp does not see any good reasons.
However, the fact that both sides are managing to claim a victory in a decision that was supposed to favor the Bush camp may, in itself, be encouraging for those with an eye on the calendar. "We see an end to this in a matter of days, not weeks," said Christopher (after calling Baker's earlier offer "sleeves from his vest"). And if the last fight in this mess is whether or not Harris will accept late returns up to the Friday-midnight deadline for overseas ballots, well, then Baker's offer has already covered that possibility.
But then again, Boies' last clear statement was that the Gore campaign's goal wasn't litigation, but "making sure every vote is counted." And with Palm Beach County still paralyzed by its own lawsuits (a seventh judge is finally looking at lifting the injunction to let the county send its results in) and sitting on all those double-punched Gore votes just yearning to breathe free, the road ahead could be long and winding indeed.
A spokesman for Harris emerged in the afternoon to say that the secretary of state would be open to including amended manual recounts through the week, depending on the reason. But with or without Palm Beach, the state of Florida seems determined to have a final tally for the public on Saturday morning. Unless somebody sues.
1:30 p.m. ET
For the Bush camp, a welcome surprise. The lawyers are headed down the block to the Florida State Supreme Court for an appeal after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ended a long Tuesday morning of suspense and upheld Secretary of State Katherine Harris's 5 p.m. deadline for certifying county vote tallies in the Florida election.
"We're sorry to keep you all waiting," court administrator Terre Cass before delivering the Gore camp and the Florida counties determined to get hand-recounts into the official tally the bad news. The judge gave Harris discretion for including "supplemental or corrective returns" before the final deadline of midnight Friday, but said she "must not do so arbitrarily."
The upshot is that Palm Beach County, at the very least, has absolutely no chance of completing a manual recount in time to get the numbers in without Harris's help and we know where she stands on late entries. Plus, the county's election results are on hold, pending some resolution of the half-dozen lawsuits over the "butterfly ballot." Which means that if Harris sticks to her deadline, the election in the State of Florida could be certified without the Palm Beach results. (Translation: Bush wins.) The county is still looking for a judge willing to rule on the matter five have recused themselves from the case so far.
So for the Gore camp, which got neither what they wanted nor what they expected from Judge Lewis, there's plenty riding on the appeals process. The argument will be the same that while the law may call for the 5 p.m. deadline, it also says counties have the right to the hand recount. Bush lawyers will argue that Judge Lewis was right the discretion rests with the secretary of state.
Or they could wait until the deadline passes and Harris turns someone's late results away, and then sue again, based on the "arbitrarily" clause. Most likely both Warren Christopher planned to fill reporters in around 2:30 p.m.
If they go with the appeal, stay tuned the Florida Supreme Court allows TV cameras in the courtroom.
The Bush camp is trying to hold the line. With a judge poised to rule on whether to grant Al Gore and his hand-counters an extension of Florida's 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline for certifying county vote tallies in the state's election, former secretary of state James Baker appeared before reporters in Tallahassee and urged once more for a endgame that would "take this process out of the courts." The adjusted disarmament offer: Let the manual recounts continue but only until the 5 p.m. deadline, and then use Friday's final number (absentee ballots included) as the deciding number. Both sides drop their lawsuits and settle up.
A compromise? To voters as well as their rivals, Baker is making the stop-the-madness argument again "More and more we see uncertainty in financial markets, and uncertainty abroad." And also accusing the Gore camp of being "more focused on selectivity than fairness," both in choosing the counties to be recounted by hand and in what portion of Florida law it chooses to champion. Gore, Baker said again, wants to keep "counting and recounting until he gets the results he wants." And a statewide manual recount of all Florida's 67 counties, he said, would take "an inordinate amount of time."
An hour later, Bill Daley could barely keep a straight face. Gore's campaign manager dismissed Baker's offer as a "reiteration of what the Florida secretary of state has already laid out" which could be tossed out by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis at any moment. He also brushed off the market-uncertainty issue as the complaints of "parobably partisan investment bankers." Though the Gore people may feel differently if the deadline-extension lawsuit goes against them, they see no reason to stop a manual recount at 5 p.m. when it could still add more ballots to their man's tally. This round will be up to the courts.